Miriam Moss gave a wonderful talk about her new book at the CWIG conference in Bath, with the result that her book sold out within minutes of the talk ending. I bought the book later, and I’m very glad that I did.
This is an extraordinary tale, written by an established writer of children’s fiction who just happened to have lived through the real life terrifying ordeal of a four day hijacking.
In 1970, teenaged Miriam was travelling from her family’s temporary home in The Middle East back to boarding school in England. Two aeroplanes had been hijacked by Palestinian guerillas in the previous couple of days, and were now parked in desert in Jordan as the hijackers made their demands and threatened to blow the planes up with all on board. Suddenly, in mid-flight, there was a man with a gun, and another with suitcase of explosives, on Miriam’s own flight. Following the hijackers' demands, that Boeing 747 with over a hundred people on board joined those others, parked in the desert with the clock ticking towards the terrorists’ deadline for death.
Miriam did survive, and she went back to ‘normal’ life. Her school felt that the best way to help her overcome that traumatic experience was to act as if it had never happened. For over forty years the experience lay dormant. Then she mentioned it to her publisher, who told her she must try writing about the experience. She wasn’t sure she could, but began researching and remembering and finding things from that time, and found that she could write about it, but in fictionalised form because of course she couldn’t remember every conversation that had happened, and because to write about other people on the plane who are still alive wouldn’t be fair on them.So this story is fiction, but heavily based in reality. It is the story of fifteen year old Anna, the four days of her hijacking ordeal, and a day or two either side of that. It is written in the first person in short chapters headed with a time and place. Most of the text gives Anna’s point of view as she and her co-hostages endure the extreme heat and cold of the desert, lack of food and drink, and, of course, the threat of death by being blown-up or shot one by one is Prime Minister Heath doesn’t agree to release their comrade back in the UK. The mix of extreme boredom and extreme terror is well handled, along with the relationships she develops with other passengers, crew, and even the hijackers. But we also get glimpses of Anna’s parents’ and brothers’ experiences through all this, particularly Marni’s (as she calls her mother). Maybe it’s because I am a mother of daughters that I found those parts the hardest to read, and their eventual reunion weepily moving!
This is a compelling and relatively short read, simply told but with a voice that (apart from odd use of very modern dialogue) utterly convinces as it tells the story in a way which I’m sure is different from the way a writer making it up would work things. We’d expect Anna to surely hate the plane that has been her explosive-primed prison, and yet, when freedom comes, she is scared to leave it and reacts with grief when she sees the plane blown-up on the television news. Who would dare make up the scene in which the hostages are lined-up on the desert for a flock of journalist and photographers to photograph and interview? And yet it happened, and you can look online to see the resulting photographs.
We are given some insight into the plight of the Palestinians driven to the desperate acts of kidnap and murder, and that’s interesting. But the real story here is Anna’s experience. That stays with you long after finishing reading.
Return to REVIEWS HOMEPAGE