The Desert and the Sea Book Summary - The Desert and the Sea Book explained in key points
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The Desert and the Sea summary

Michael Scott Moore

977 Days Captive on the Somali Pirate Coast

4.6 (16 ratings)
24 mins
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    The Desert and the Sea
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    The contrast between the romance of piracy and its brutal modern iteration drew Michael Scott Moore to Somalia.

    When you’re young, there's a certain romance to pirates. For generations past, it was the adventures in Robert Louis Stephenson’s Treasure Island that proved so enticing. For the author – like so many other Americans of the same age – Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean ride provided the cliché. Even as an adult, once he’d left his California childhood home and started traveling the world, stories about modern piracy captivated him.

    This was particularly true during the time he was working on his 2011 book Sweetness and Blood.

    His research on how surfing had become a global hit took him to locations the world over, including São Tomé in West Africa and the Caribbean.

    While on his travels he heard detailed true tales about pirates of the past. His curiosity was piqued.

    Meanwhile, at the same time, in another part of the world, piracy in Somalia had begun to explode. Reports of hijacks appeared regularly on the nightly news.

    The author was struck by just how piracy in Somalia differed from the romanticized stories he’d heard on his travels. This modern version seemed so much more violent.

    This got him thinking: what did the rise of modern piracy signify? What did that rise reveal about the breakdown of order in the world at large?

    The author convinced himself there was nothing else to do but to make his way to Somalia. In the end, it was the trial of ten Somali pirates in Hamburg that led him there.

    Luckily, Moore, as a German-American, had settled in Berlin and so was able to keep a close eye on the trial.

    The pirates had been captured in 2010, as they were attempting to hijack a German cargo ship. While he was covering the trial, the author became friends with a court interpreter who, in turn, introduced him to a Somali elder living in Berlin, Mohammed Sahal Gerlach. Gerlach was originally from Galkayo, the hometown of several of the defendants. He’d also once been a guide for a TV journalist filming in Somalia.

    It was through Gerlach that Moore and a fellow journalist made arrangements to get to Somalia to begin research. In early 2012 they arrived in Galkayo, where they were hosted by regional president Mohamed Ahmed Alin. Alin was a cousin of Gerlach’s and himself part of the powerful Sa’ad clan.

    It seemed as though Moore had struck gold. His putative book project had legs, and his local connections seemed secure. However, it was soon clear that they’d been a little too trusting in making arrangements.

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    What is The Desert and the Sea about?

    In The Desert and the Sea (2018), journalist Michael Scott Moore recounts his experience of being held hostage by Somali pirates. Moore gives an insightful account of his own plight while also managing to empathize with those who held him captive. The blinks chronicle his inner turmoil over the course of the ordeal and look to the bigger picture, grappling with how people manage to endure in the worst of circumstances.

    Who should read The Desert and the Sea?

    • Journalists curious about the perils of their profession
    • History buffs wanting to know about the legacy of colonialism
    • Armchair political analysts unsure about what modern piracy entails

    About the Author

    Michael Scott Moore is a journalist and author from California. His work has appeared in Spiegel Online, Atlantic Monthly and the New Republic. His previous book, Sweetness and Blood (2010), traced the spread of surfing throughout the world. He has also published a novel, Too Much of Nothing (2003).

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