Strangely compelling memoir by a self-described “man without a country,” who relates his survival in and escape from Saddam’s war-torn Iraq.
Following his parents’ acrimonious divorce in 1978, 14-year-old Kenderian left Iraq with his mother and brother for the U.S. Seeking reconciliation with his father, he returned two years later, only to have Iraq’s borders close behind him at the outbreak of war with Iran. It lasted eight years; Kenderian ended up securing an engineering degree and serving in the Iraqi Navy. In 1990, after his father’s death, he tried to renew his green card, but before the process could be completed, he found himself an unwilling conscript fighting yet another of Saddam’s unprovoked wars. During the invasion of Kuwait and Operation Desert Storm, Kenderian decided his only chance of returning to the U.S. was to be captured by the Americans. His audacious plan succeeded, but not before a series of bizarre twists and turns more reminiscent of Kafka than Arabian Nights. The author and his frightened, unwilling comrades were sent into battle without sidearms, proper-caliber ammunition for the ship’s guns, medicine or sufficient food. Kenderian’s boat hit an Iraqi mine and was strafed by an American plane; he became the Gulf War’s 23rd prisoner of war. At a succession of POW camps, his captors thought he was a spy, while his fellow captives were suspect of the unusual attention he received from the guards. Sustained by his considerable wits, his deep religious faith, his unlikely love affair with truck-driving American servicewoman Monica and the intercession of family and friends in the outside world, he eventually made his way to his mother’s house in California. Kenderian’s account is at some points overly guarded; his parents’ story and his connection with Monica, for example, should have been discussed in more detail. His prose, an odd mixof world-weariness and naïveté, is also problematic.
The splendidly preposterous facts overwhelm any infirmities in the telling of this amazing personal history.