This book couldn’t be more timely…or controversial. Terms or phrases that have sadly become part of the world’s vocabulary in a negative and frightening way – Shiites, Muslim Brotherhood (precursor to Islamic extremists), Allah–o-Akbar — are presented here as part of the daily life of the author. He spent a great deal of his life in and out of prison for the “crime” of associating with the wrong people or speaking out against the atrocities around him.
It’s not an easy book to read, with graphic details of beatings, torture and assassinations, not to mention prison conditions that were themselves a form of torture. Yet this book is something of a history lesson, and while it’s doubtful that most readers will feel much sympathy for those involved, it does provide a better understanding of the conditions in Syria and Lebanon, past and present.
Even though the violence is predominant, perhaps the saddest portions of the book are the author’s childhood memories of playing with friends in a land that was once considered beautiful, at least through the eyes of a child. He also relates very “human” tales of family and love. One can’t help but wonder if things could have been different if generation after generation hadn’t resorted to fighting and brutality. Or is it impossible to break the vicious (literally) cycle of violence?
History buffs and readers curious for some explanations or understanding will surely be very satisfied by this book, powerfully written by Wajdy Mustafa.
Author Hilary Neiman claims that all she wanted to do with her life was help children find loving homes. She apparently did just that – until one day when the FBI showed up at her National Adoption and Surrogacy Center offices and read her her Miranda rights. In an instant, she went from tirelessly working to bring prospective parents and unborn children together to charges of human trafficking, baby selling and the charge she ultimately pled guilty to – wire fraud.
Her case was a national news item in late 2011, when she was named as part of a 3-lawyer baby-selling ring. Whether or not readers have heard of the case may influence their desire to read the book, but I can only offer encouragement to put personal judgment aside and give the book a chance. I had not heard of the case, so I was able to give the author the benefit of the doubt. If the author is to be believed (and she presents a very convincing story) the case was anything but clear-cut. She claims full responsibility for making bad decisions and even for not reporting shady dealings by others involved in the surrogacy business. Regardless of the facts of the case, it’s fascinating to see how quickly one’s life can change. Neiman came from a delightful childhood, prime education and a successful career, yet ended up spending 5 months in prison. She cooperated with the FBI far too easily for someone supposedly acquainted with the judicial system. In her frequently witty manner she writes, “When three agents of the FBI, or any other law enforcement agency, tell you that they need to read you your Miranda rights while they are standing in your office, advise them that the interview is OVER. Lock the door behind them on their way out. Summon the spirit of Johnny Cochrane…” she observes, in hindsight.
There is much to be learned from Things Fall Apart (which is actually an understatement) about surrogacy laws, as well as the prison system. Neiman takes readers behind the scenes and gives the females she served time with the aura of humanity that is no doubt often lacking. These women become real people, not numbers or offenders, and the reading experience is fascinating.
Her first moment of surrendering to the prison was met with humor, when she observed that the guard rigorously questioned her and required proof of her identity before admitting her to the population. She says she “could not help wonder whether they regularly had impostors show up at the penitentiary, intent on serving out someone else’s prison sentence.”
Humor aside, though, this is a story worth reading and some valuable lessons are learned – not to mention the ones learned by Hilary Neiman.