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Book Review

The Dawn Prayer

The Dawn Prayer

(or How to Survive in a Secret Syrian Terrorist Prison)

 

Written by: Matthew Schrier
Narrated by: Michael David Axtell
Genres: Memoirs | True Life | Other Non-Fiction
Published: 5th of April, 2018
Length: 9 Hours 47 Minutes

 

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Description
A photographer captured in Syria and imprisoned for seven months recounts his story and how he became the first American ever to escape al-Qaeda.

"What is your name?" asked General Mohammad.

"Matthew," I said. I had stopped saying Matt a while ago because it means "dead" in Arabic.

On New Year's Eve in 2012, Matthew Schrier was headed home from Syria, where he'd been photographing the intense combat of the country's civil war. Just 45 minutes from the safety of the Turkish border, he was taken prisoner by the al-Nusra Front, an organization the world would come to know as the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda.

Over the next seven months he would endure torture and near starvation in six brutal terrorist prisons. He would face a daily struggle just to survive. And, eventually, he would escape. In this gripping, raw, and surprisingly funny memoir, Schrier details the horrifying and frequently surreal experience of being a slight, wisecracking Jewish guy held captive by the world's most violent Islamic extremists. Managing to keep his heritage a secret, Schrier used humor to develop relationships with his captors - and to keep himself sane during the long months of captivity.

The Dawn Prayer (or How to Survive in a Secret Syrian Terrorist Prison) is a tale of patriotism and unimaginable bleakness shot through with light, of despair and friendship, sacrifice and betrayal, in a setting of bombed-out buildings and shifting alliances. It's the story of the first Westerner to escape al-Qaeda - not a battle-hardened soldier, but an ordinary New Yorker who figured out how to set his escape plan in motion from a scene in Jurassic Park. From the prisoners' fiercely competitive hacky-sack games and volleyball tournaments (played using a ball made of shredded orange peels and a shoelace) to his own truly nail-biting breakout, Matthew Schrier's story is unforgettable - and one you won't want to miss.

 

Morgan Hobbes
Morgan Hobbes

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Reviewed: 2020-10-10

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Great Read, Riveting, Interesting Insights
I'd not heard of Matthew Schrier prior to this book popping up on my list. Not being American I guess I missed most of the hubbub around his imprisonment and escape from al-Nusra Front - aka the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda.

Schrier does a great job recounting the details of daily life imprisoned in squalid conditions, however, I can't help but think perhaps there is some exaggeration going on about how well he magically got along with everyone. Call me a cynic, but everyone he met he apparently had guffawing in laughter and backslaps... kind of like when people bang on a "and then everyone cheered" and the end of an obviously made-up story.

I'm not saying he didn't get onside with his captors using his humour, I'm just wondering how accurate his portrayal of events actually was in regards to this.

One of his fellow cellmates was Theo Padnos, who he describes as a simpering, bootlicking and weak-minded. I've not yet read Theo's side of the story, but it's obvious they didn't get along. Theo had been held captive for three months prior to Schrier meeting him, so I think it unfair how quick to deride and judge him Schrier was. It seemed to me that Padnos was a broken man just trying to get through, and Schrier made his own days easier by finding an easy target to hate on.

All that aside, it was an interesting glimpse behind the curtain of what life is like for those captured by militants during the conflict. I can't help but wonder how many more innocent people were caught up in these events and tortured or executed for simply being in the wrong place.

Captivating, I listened to the almost 10 hours in a few sittings. Narration by Michael David Axtell was top-notch, delivering the depth and sense of despair needed to fully appreciate the words.

 

 

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