Thursday, July 6, 2023

Book Review- Stolen Family: Captive in Saudi Arabia by Johanne Durocher

In 2001, a Canadian girl of seventeen fell in love with a Saudi man, who claimed that he was a student in Canada, and became pregnant. When he was deported back to Saudi Arabia, she decided to follow him with the baby, thinking that she could return whenever she wanted. Little did she know that she would be trapped there, in a violent marriage marred with abject poverty, and that no bureaucracy or diplomacy would take the step to hear her pleas and relieve her of her egregious distress. Her mother moved heaven and earth to repatriate her and her children back to Canada, and still, after more than one and a half decades, she continues the fight.

Stolen Family is the real-life account of the plight of Nathalie Morin, who got trapped in Saudi Arabia, as told by her mother, Johanne Durocher. It also details the immense struggle of Johanne to ensure the safe return of Nathalie and her children back to Canada and the personal losses that she had to endure in her effort. The book was originally written in French, and Netgalley gave me an ebook of the upcoming English translation by J. C. Sutcliffe, in exchange for my honest feedback.

It is a very shocking book to read. To imagine that the events described in it have happened or are playing out in our times is very disturbing. In hindsight, it is easy to blame Nathalie for her erroneous decision-making and for not backing off when there were several evident danger signals. It is also easy to blame Johanne for not trying harder to avoid the traps into which her daughter fell, in spite of her being a victim of similar crimes.

But nothing can excuse the devious and underhand manner in which her husband trapped Nathalie in a foreign land and forced her to conceive three times more, binding her more to Saudi law. Equally dicey is the Saudi authority, which used its power to unfavourably prevent any respite for her and make her stay in Saudi Arabia by hook or crook. The Canadian government and authorities also failed spectacularly in protecting their citizens interests and safety in a foreign land. It is evident that they misinterpreted and trivialised a serious diplomatic issue between two sovereign countries into a common family tussle. It can also be observed many times that Canadian officials worked hand in glove with the Saudis to ensure that Nathalie and her children were not repatriated to their homeland.

The best quality of Johanne's writing is her utter frankness and courage to call a spade a spade. She names every politician, officer, bureaucrat, and journalist who intentionally or unintentionally denied justice. In the initial pages of the book, I got the feeling that Johanne is just a vitriolic mother who is desperate for her daughter's return and not ready to have an objective view of the situation. But while the situation was unfolding in the later pages of the book, I realised that this was not the case. Two incidents especially anchored my realisation: her reaction to the plight of two Saudi activists who tried to help Nathalie and her objective description of her Saudi son-in-law that is described towards the end of the book.

Stolen Family: Captive in Saudi Arabia is a harrowing experience even to read. We can only imagine the plight of the individuals who had to live through this and had their lives devastated. It also makes us aware that many other unaccounted-for similar incidents are happening around us even today, in the era of a globalised world. I believe educating children to become more independent and to curb their tendency to get addicted to substances will be the right step. Recently, Saudi Arabia has been ready to dilute many of its tough religious laws and open up towards a more liberal and free society. I hope other autocratic nations follow suit and that no more families are stolen hereafter.

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