This is the horrifying maelstrom that swept up and displaced Chol-wdwuok and his extended family and would, nine years later, land him in a Kenyan refugee camp south of Lokichogio. Chol-wdwuok was a young boy at the time, young enough not to have been conscripted as a child soldier by the SPLA, which routinely took children as young as 13. Of course, this brutal massacre was but one act in a much longer play, namely the Second Sudanese Civil War which raged between the SPLA and the Sudanese government, which in 1991, was represented by the Revolutionary Command Council for National Salvation (RCC) under General (and President) Omar al-Bashir.
The Second Sudanese Civil War was one of the longest civil conflicts on record, lasting 22 years from 1983 to 2005. Angels in Swollen Crises is a compelling nine-year thread (1991–2000) woven through the tattered fabric of bloody events that blanketed the region like a shroud. It is a story of unbelievable hardship and dislocation, following its narrator from childhood to young adulthood.
Chol-wdwuok was born in Jonglei State, South Sudan, in 1986, the eldest of Willow and Magak’s five children. His family scattered all over the State, when he was 5 years. In 2000, he moved to Kenya for education. There, he attended Kakuma Refugee school––––Fashoda Primary School where he got a Jesuit Refugee scholarship to Katilu High School, Kenya. After graduating from Katilu High, he applied for and got into World University of Canada, WUSC scholarship to University of British Columbia, UBC where he attained his Bachelor Degree in Mathematics and Economics.
In January 2012, having covered a Somali pirate trial in Hamburg for Spiegel Online International—and funded by a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting—Michael Scott Moore traveled to the Horn of Africa to write about piracy and ways to end it. In a terrible twist of fate, Moore himself was kidnapped and subsequently held captive by Somali pirates. Subjected to conditions that break even the strongest spirits—physical injury, starvation, isolation, terror—Moore’s survival is a testament to his indomitable strength of mind. In September 2014, after 977 days, he walked free when his ransom was put together by the help of several US and German institutions, friends, colleagues, and his strong-willed mother.
Yet Moore’s own struggle is only part of the story: The Desert and the Sea falls at the intersection of reportage, memoir, and history. Caught between Muslim pirates, the looming threat of Al-Shabaab, and the rise of ISIS, Moore observes the worlds that surrounded him—the economics and history of piracy; the effects of post-colonialism; the politics of hostage negotiation and ransom; while also conjuring the various faces of Islam—and places his ordeal in the context of the larger political and historical issues.
A sort of Catch-22 meets Black Hawk Down, The Desert and the Sea is written with dark humor, candor, and a journalist’s clinical distance and eye for detail. Moore offers an intimate and otherwise inaccessible view of life as we cannot fathom it, brilliantly weaving his own experience as a hostage with the social, economic, religious, and political factors creating it. The Desert and the Sea is wildly compelling and a book that will take its place next to titles like Den of Lions and Even Silence Has an End.