Sunday, September 12, 2021

Movie Review - ‘The Mauritanian’

Very few movies make you pause and reflect on life and value of our contemporary times. ‘The Mauritanian,’ which I watched last night is one such film. #TheMauritanian, the movie starring Jodie Foster, Tahar Rahim, Shailene Woodley, & Benedict Cumberbatch is streaming on Amazon Prime, and definitely a drama-in-real-life worth watching. 

The movie and the New York Times (NYT) article from this morning makes one reflect on contemporary American values, especially as it pertains to globalization. As the NYT article succinctly summarizes, “twenty years after the attacks, the United States is still grappling with the consequences of brutal interrogations carried out in the name of national security.” (NYT: The Legacy of America’s Post-9/11 Turn to Torture)

Movie: The Mauritanian - Amazon Prime

As an Indian American, who went through the arduous path to acquire an American citizenship, I cherish the values of the American system – life, liberty and pursuit of happiness – along with the quintessentially Indian and Asian values I grew up with. Like most Americans, I watched with horror as the twin towers were brought down by aircraft commandeered by terrorists over two decades ago. 

I also rejoiced as the American military went on the offensive to extract justice half-way across the world, and the bad-guys were captured. However, I continued to scratch my head as many of the detainees were shipped to Guantánamo Bay. While not a legal expert, I continued to read up on the extra-judicial process, and the way some detainees were waterboarded and tortured to extract a confession. 

A few sections from the NYT article

  • Mr. Slahi was a clever, curious son in a Bedouin family of 12 children who became the first in his family to study abroad. While working toward an engineering degree in Germany in the 1990s, he traveled to Afghanistan to train in the anti-Communist jihad at a time when the United States endorsed it.  
  • There were the guards who menaced him with attack dogs and beat him so badly they broke his ribs. The troops who shackled him, blasted him with heavy metal music and strobe lights or drenched him in ice water to deny him sleep for months on end. The mind-numbing isolation in a darkened cell without his Quran. The female guards who exposed themselves and touched him sexually in an effort to undermine his adherence to Islam. 
  • “If you don’t admit to it, we are going to kidnap your mother, rape her,” the interrogator said, by Mr. Slahi’s account. “I remember telling them: ‘This is unfair. This is not fair,’” Mr. Slahi recalled. The interrogator, he said, responded: “I’m not looking for justice. I’m looking to stop planes from hitting buildings in my country.” 
  • The United States has long since stopped employing the so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” used in what studies have concluded was a fruitless or counterproductive effort to extract lifesaving information from detainees in secret C.I.A. prisons and at Guantánamo Bay.

Much of what is depicted in the NYT article seems to be summarized from Mr. Slahi’s book and also depicted in the movie.  

As NYT article summarizes, on one level, Mr. Slahi’s is a hopeful story. A story of human grit and resilience. One man’s effort to maintain sanity while undergoing tremendous torture and being imprisoned for over 15 years for something he didn’t do. “I wholeheartedly forgive everyone who wronged me during my detention,” he said in a YouTube message to the world soon after his release. “I forgive, because forgiveness is my inexhaustible resource.”

The book and movie are certainly worth checking out.

IMDB - The Mauritanian (2021) - Mohamedou Ould Slahi fights for freedom after being detained and imprisoned without charge by the U.S. Government for years.

Mohamedou Ould Slahi, who underwent brutal interrogations while he was held at Guantánamo Bay, is a free man in Mauritania after nearly 15 years as a detainee.Credit...Btihal Remli for The New York Times


Friday, September 3, 2021

American Dirt (Oprah's Book Club): A Novel - #BookReview

With lockdowns and the pandemic slowing down life and travel as we knew it, I have been bing-listening to Audio Books during the past year. I generally listen to top-ranked non-fictional novels and most stories are transient in my mind. However, a few stories, linger in one's mind long after the book is finished. 

Jeanine Cummins's American Dirt is one such novel - and not surprisingly it has received a lot of acclaim including 51,000 reviews on Amazon! 

 Here is my review from Amazon

I came across American Dirt while searching for my next audio book and was captivated in the first few minutes. Midway through the saga, I googled the book and realized it was a bestseller with critical reviews. I decided to tuck aside that piece of information and continued the journey with the protagonist Lydia, her son Luca and their migrant cohorts as they make the treacherous journey "El Norte."

The story begins with Lydia and her eight-year-old son Luca witnessing the brutal murder of 16 of their family members while the pair have a miraculous escape. That sets in motion Lydia’s determination to escape to the US ("El Norte") with her son. We then join Lydia and Luca in their perilous journey on foot and top of goods train as they try to escape the wide net cast by a cartel boss.

The saga, set in a short span of a few weeks, has a bit of everything – philosophy in the form of Lydia’s oft repeated mantra “try not to think,” suspense, crime, drug lords, cartels and drama. It also tries to give us a glimpse into the sordid state of affairs when a drug-cartel takes over a placid Mexican town. With a few characters who join Lydia and Luca in their journey, the author attempts to highlight why some migrants risk their lives to try to cross the border "El Norte."

Bottomline: Follow Lydia’s advice; “try not to think” of the reviews and just enjoy a good read.