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A Season in Hell: My 130 Days in the Sahara with Al Qaeda
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A Season in Hell: My 130 Days in the Sahara with Al Qaeda

4.05 of 5 stars 4.05  ·  rating details  ·  88 ratings  ·  17 reviews
For decades, Robert R. Fowler was a dominant force in Canadian foreign affairs. In one heart-stopping minute, all of that changed. On December 14, 2008, Fowler, acting as the UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy to Niger, was kidnapped by Al Qaeda, becoming the highest ranked UN official ever held captive. Along with his colleague Louis Guay, Fowler lived, slept and ate wi ...more
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published October 31st 2011 by HarperCollins Canada
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It was an OK read, although I found myself putting it down and reading other things several times. The author did have an adventure, but told it in a fairly unemotional manner that failed to engage me.
Chris Scott
Robert Fowler’s account of his four-month captivity in northern Mali with Louis Guay in 2009 doesn’t so much leap off the page as grab you by the ears and haul you in. I read it over a weekend because here at last is a lucid, thoughtful and detailed description of an experience about which many desert travellers wonder: ‘how would I cope?’. And before the first page is turned Fowler answers that question: ‘better than you’d assume’.

Thankfully, a lazy Day 1, Day 2… diary format is avoided. Instea
Ross Pennie
I was riveted by this book, which I read on my way to the west coast of Africa. I was impressed by the clarity of the story's details and the refreshing lack of bitterness from the author. It gave me disturbing, vivid dreams that repeatedly interrupted my sleep. I couldn't put it it down. Fowler's criticism of the actions of our RCMP leadership fit well with most Canadians' view of a force that needs to be completely revamped from the top down.
I found this a very good read; The dispassionate approach makes it more factual and a lot easier to swallow. I know this part of the world and could rely on my own (very different) experience of the desert and the problems plaguing this area. Mr. Fowler's analysis of the situation is very relevant; what is more amazing to me is that he could and can separate these facts from his emotion. Very interesting.
Fascinating, easy read on what is a terrifying topic. Especially enjoyed the discussion of the rapport and interactions between Mr. Fowler and Mr. Guay and their captors.
Steven Langdon
Robert Fowler has been at the heart of Canadian foreign policy for several decades -- as "sherpa" at the G8 Summit in 2002, Canada's ambassador to the UN when this country was on the Security Council, and a key public servant in the Defence Department. When he was kidnapped by Al Qaeda forces in West Africa in late 2008, it was almost the equivalent of former US ambassador to the UN Madelaine Albright being captured by Osama bin Laden -- except that the AQIM (Al Qaeda in the Magreb) that seized ...more
The account of the kidnapping and 130 days of captivity of two Canadian diplomats, Robert Fowler and Louis Guay, by Al Quaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

Fowler was special envoy of UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon to promote peace negotiations in Niger when he, Guay, and their driver were abducted.

The Good

As Fowler states in the preface, this book is not an academic treatise on Al Qaeda or Islamic fundamentalism. Consequently, very little of the geopolitical issues surrounding the kidnapping
I raced throught this book, captivated from the very beginning. It was important to me to know that both the author and his companion, Louis, make it out alive. I might not have been as interested if the story came to a more tragic end.

The author's descriptions of his experience, his captors, his mental process of analyzing the siutation facing him is fascinating - if at times, a look into the darkness of the human soul. I found some of the author's character trait's annoying. At times, I wante
John Ison
I have to admit I only read this book because of the Canadian content and the author (and subject) is the godfather of close friend. However, it is a very well written, fascinating inside look at Al Quaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM). I mean very inside, Fowler spent 130 days as their hostage in the remote Sahara. I am amazed that the victims survived 130 days in hell at all much less relatively in tact physically and mentally with no experience or training to help. The story line is good, the detaile ...more
Quite refreshing after having read Ingrid Bettencourt's similar hostage story in the first person. This book has perspective and puts the author's very personal situation in the larger scheme of things. It also provides a solid criticism of the RCMP's role, as well as of DFAIT's and PAFSO's total lack of care and attention to the personal needs of the families who suffered through this ordeal. Well worth reading.
This was a pretty good book but a little long winded. The explanations of al quaeda's presence in africa was confusing and very complicated. It lost my interest and I ended up skipping chunks of chapters. It could have been written in more layman's terms. Nonetheless it was an important story to tell and it was a powerful story of survival and perseverence in the face of adversity.
While it was overall an interesting look into the harrowing experience of someone held hostage by al-Queda, it included too much minute, repetitive detail. I skimmed quite a bit. I enjoyed Fowler's reflections on al-Queda, national security, and international cooperation, but they were very few.
Sheri Robinson
Riveting. This is a book that every Canadian needs to read. Robert Fowler and a co-worker are taken hostage by terrorists and survive the horrible ordeal. Fowler describes not only the worst and scariest parts but also the mundane routine of everyday life in captivity.
Claudia Casper
Easy read, page turner, almost like an adventure book. Fascinating look into the everyday life of members of Al Queda in the magreb from the proximate outside. Because Fowler is clearly an atheist, his kidnappers remain opaque to him.
It was pretty interesting, sometimes exciting, but also a little long-winded and dry in parts, particularly all of the political details and commentary. Overall, though, a good story.
Very accessible read, with incredible detail considering Fowler was writing from memory.
Good insights on history, motivation, and organization of AQIM
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Robert R. Fowler is a Canadian diplomat. During his 38 year public service career, Robert Fowler was foreign policy advisor to Prime Ministers Trudeau, Turner and Mulroney, deputy minister of national defence and Canada’s longest serving ambassador to the United Nations. He was ambassador to Italy and three UN food agencies, sherpa for the Kananaskis G8 Summit and the personal representative for A ...more
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