There are times when the sheer momentum of events gives a novel dramatic impetus. Such is the case with Parker Millsí harrowing story of a woman imprisoned in Saddam Husseinís despotic Iraq in 2002-2003. Journalist Theresa Fuller crosses the border into Iraq, eschewing the necessary papers with the intention of getting her story and leaving before her presence is detected.
Fuller and her Canadian cameraman, Peter Cranston, are intercepted with their Kurdish guides, unable to produce any papers to validate their presence in the country. The result is torture and captivity, Theresa clinging to her secret: that she lived in Iraq in the past, her father imprisoned and executed years ago. Whatever the specific memories, they are buried in Theresaís subconscious, a young girlís need to avoid the painful truths she was not prepared to deal with as a child. Now it is 2002, and America prepares for an invasion into Iraq.
It is Theresaís misfortune that she has been arrested by Saddamís secret police, the Mukhabarat, and brought to the attention of Colonel Badr, a Saddam loyalist who suspects the journalistís motives and her past activities. Cranston suffers unremitting torture in Abu Ghraib; Theresa, interrogated elsewhere, bonds with Captain Tariq al-Alwali, whom she intuits may harbor some sympathy for her predicament.
In simple, painful prose, the author tracks Fullerís ordeal, the progressive physical and emotional torture and degradation she endures, and the tentative relationship with one of her captors. Indeed, she does have secrets, only belatedly revealed during her imprisonment.
As the story unfolds, Theresa remembers the past, endures the present, and hopes for the future, the Colonel closing in with each painful session. In a country steeped in war and violence, Fuller makes peace with the grim past, barely escaping the jaws of destruction and a formidable enemy, surviving torture and human frailty, finally embracing an unrecognizable, albeit welcome future.
This is familiar territory to Tanya Parker Mills, who has spent much of her time in the Middle East and offers a perceptive, compassionate perspective on one womanís journey through the last days of Saddamís regime.
Emotionally layered, with people and consequences far beyond the expected, the author delivers a powerful tale of a country demeaned by a despot, citizens desperate to survive, freed from Saddam only to be thrust into further conflict.
Although the prose is simple and straightforward, the novel carries a particular power, fueled by events and history.