Monday 19 February 2018

Review: Stolen: Escape From Syria by Louise Monaghan with Yvonne Kinsella


BATTLE OF WITS: Louise Monaghan managed to smuggle her daughter out of Syria and home to Dublin. Photo: Tony Gavin
BATTLE OF WITS: Louise Monaghan managed to smuggle her daughter out of Syria and home to Dublin. Photo: Tony Gavin

THE opening chapter of Stolen describes Wednesday, Sept-ember 7, 2011, the worst day of Dublin-born Louise Monaghan's life in Cyprus, where she had lived since 2003.

As part of the custody arrangement, Louise's ex-husband, Mostafa, came to take their six-year-old daughter, May, to the beach for a few hours. Louise noticed that he was behaving oddly. He seemed to be in a hurry and his manner was curt.

Moments after he left, she phoned him, asking if he was up to something. He assured her that he wasn't and he urged her not to worry. He stated that it was his legal right as a father to see his daughter, end of story.

Louise's instinct told her that something was wrong. Hours later, when she tried to call, his phone was switched off. Later on, there was a foreign dial tone. Her worst fears had been confirmed when Mostafa answered. He had abducted their daughter back to his native Syria. This was despite the fact that Louise had already cancelled her passport and that there was a stop order on their child, which meant that she couldn't leave the country without both parents' consent.

Stolen, written by Louise in conjunction with journalist Yvonne Kinsella, is a terrifying read about one woman's struggle to find her young daughter in a war-torn country. It is about the lengths a mother will go to, and the horrors she will endure, so that she can be reunited with her precious child. It is hard to imagine how an ordinary young woman from Swords could summon up the courage to deal with people-smugglers and then go on a long dangerous journey, with different taxi drivers, hoping that they would bring her to the Syrian border. But then no one should underestimate the power of a mother's love.

At times the book reads like a thriller. A blonde Western woman living on her wits, Louise managed to make it to across the border, where she eventually met her ex-husband. Although she was reunited with her daughter, who after less than a week had lost weight and had shadows under her eyes, the situation was far from ideal. Mostafa demanded that Louise sell all her worldly goods and they would live together in Syria, as Muslims. (She had not converted, nor did their daughter attend a Muslim school in Cyprus.)

It was then that Louise knew she would have to play a game, as if she was complying with his orders; all the while she was planning an escape.

One group of people-smugglers failed to rescue them but one day, when Mostafa left Louise and May alone in the car for a few minutes, they made a run for it. It was their only chance. Syrian people-smugglers helped them along the way, and eventually when they got to the Lebanon, which involved climbing mountains by night, the Irish authorities came to the rescue and brought them safely back to Dublin. It is an extraordinary story.

The book answers all the questions you might ask. What was a young Irish woman doing living in Cyprus? After the death of her mother, Louise had visited the country on holidays. She fell in love with the place and vowed to return, to try her hand at living there. She set up a hair-dressing salon, and later she worked as a sales agent for a tour operator. Life was good and everything was cheaper than Ireland. She was financially comfortable, living happily in a sunny climate.

She met Mostafa at a disco one night. It was love at first sight. He had big brown eyes, broad shoulders and he was immaculately dressed. He spoke very little English but that didn't hold them back. To her, he seemed charming and gentle and she wanted to take care of him. She felt like she had known him for centuries. All that changed when the marriage soured, leading to the divorce and then the eventual abduction.

When Louise brought May back to Dublin, traumatised after their ordeal, they took some time to sort themselves out. She explains how they tried to settle down in Dublin, but young May was missing her friends in Cyprus and Louise missed the sun, the sea and the sand.

After much soul-searching, Louise made the decision to move back to Cyprus. It was now her home and she has decided that if she didn't go back, Mostafa would be winning.

Louise says that she is unsure of where her ex-husband is right now but she hopes and prays that he is out of their life forever.

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