Twisted fantasies, dystopian thrillers, and complicated romances: these are the types of novels that I can snuggle up with for hours, not lifting my head even once, until the sun has disappeared into the shadows. These are the types of novels that forge a story so foreign and unique that I can escape from reality. These are the types of novels that excite and arouse me. And then there’s nonfiction: books that aren’t foreign or unknown, because they are real, books that are actually someone’s reality. Maybe that's why I haven’t picked up a nonfiction novel in over five years. But whatever excuse I make, the truth is this: Stolen: Escape From Syria made me struggle, the type of struggle where I wanted to pull my hair out and scream like a madman. Stolen by Louise Monaghan was a novel I had to put down multiple times and forcibly get myself through the small 255 pages of reality, which I finally finished after five days. The challenges of reading this piece of literature kept building up through its complex diction, unusual structure, and unwarranted, biased claims.
Basically, the story is told from the account of a mother, Louise, trying desperately to get her child (May) back after May was kidnapped from her abusive ex-husband, Moustafa. It sounds almost absurd enough to be fiction, but sadly this isn’t that uncommon. “In 2010 more than 200,000 family abductions were recorded in the USA” (13) and the number has only risen since then. What really unsettled me was the massive personality shift faced by Louise after the turmoil she faced when watching her daughter be snatched away from her hands. Her persona changed from “ bubbly Louise who loved a laugh and a joke”(100) into someone who couldn’t trust anyone. Towards the end of the book when Louise and her daughter May try to escape Moustafa, a taxi driver gives them a ride outside of Syria. Louise decides she cannot stay and wait for the police to take her out of Syria anymore, so she makes a run for it. Though the taxi driver is sincere in helping her the entire time, Louise can’t help but think, “He is up to something. [I] can’t trust this man” (180). But after he helps them escape the war zone of Syria and even finds them a nice place to stay for the night, Louise admits, “I felt so bad for being suspicious of this man. I had lost trust in everyone” (181). This line stood out as much as Louise stood out in the crumbled rubble in Syria. It was weird because throughout the book the reader gets attached to this joyful, strong yet gullible, woman, and this line shows how much one tragic event changed her.
Another part that really stood out to me was when Louise and her daughter are taken to a safe house to freshen up. Louise, now accustomed to the Syrian-Muslim culture, takes off her shoes as routine and a lady says, “ ‘What are you doing, love? There are no Muslims here. We are Christian.’”(236). To this statement Louise responds, “I think it was then that I knew we were truly safe.” She associates turmoil and tragedy with muslims after her horrible endeavor with Mostafa. I don’t agree with it since I’m a Muslim myself, and I don’t think you should blame an entire religion for your problems. But the only Muslims she’s encountered are her abusive ex-husband, the strict police of Syria, and the Muslims in the war. So it helps me understand her claims even though it's upsetting to think that now every time she sees a Muslim all she will think about is this tragic incident that ruined her life. And that’s the thing: people associate trauma with personal experience. And that’s why islamophobia has grown so much. People see the wars happening in the Middle East, and they remember 9/11, and they associate that with their hatred for ISIS. And even though ISIS and all these other horrible groups are not really Muslim, that is what most people remember, just like in this book. Stolen talks about a lot of issues: kidnapping, abusive relationships, islamophobia, and war. All of them tie together and relate to the millions of turmoils happening today. It was a sort of revelation to me because I used to despise people who grouped all Muslims as terrorists or who would think that Syrian refugees should be left to die. I still don’t like them but it helps me see where some of their perspectives come from, although not all of them because some of them are just islamophobes for no reason, but it has helped broaden my mind. But still, does a traumatic experience give someone the right to blame a whole religion? We don’t blame all Christians for the KKK. We don’t blame Germany for Hitler. We don’t blame America for racists. So what makes her biased claims acceptable?
But the biggest question is: how many more people have had a child kidnapped, have been abused, have seen a war of millions? And how many have been able to escape?
Monaghan, Louise, and Yvonne Kinsella. Stolen: Escape from Syria. St. Martin's, n.d. Print.