Title: The Siege: 68 Hours Inside the Taj Hotel
Author: Cathy Scott-Clark & Adrian Levy
Release Date: October 29, 2013
Publisher: Penguin Books
Genre: Nonfiction, History
Rating: 5 out of 5
On November 26, 2008, terrorists attacked the city of Mumbai, focusing their efforts on the Taj hotel, one of the most iconic locations in India. Cathy Scott-Clark and Adrian Levy recount the tense 68 hours that the attack took place, providing a revealing look at what really happened inside the hotel during that fateful time.
The Siege: 68 Hours Inside the Taj Hotel is, quite simply, narrative journalistic nonfiction at its best. The authors combine a captivating writing style with an impeccably researched account of the Laskhar-e-Toiba’s attack on the city of Mumbai.
For 68 hours, members of Lashkar-e-Toiba, a terrorist group based in Pakistan, held the Taj hotel, the city of Mumbai, the country of India, and indeed the world captive when they began their attack on the city on November 26, 2008. But what really happened? Why did it take so long to clear out the hotel, especially considering the low number of gunmen? Cathy Scott-Clark and Adrian Levy succeed in taking these difficult, chaotic events and putting them together into a coherent narrative, helping the reader understand the personalities on both sides, the complex cultural, political, and religious history, and the context of the attack.
An account like The Siege isn’t effective if it doesn’t provide an emotional connection between the players in the tragedy and the reader, and this something that the authors excel at. Readers learn about each of the people, major and minor, from terrorist to hotel employee to guest. They focus on certain stories in order to convey the utter horror of what was happening; it becomes personal for the reader. The multiple narrators effectively draw the reader into the story, making this a gripping read that is impossible to put down.
The authors also do a great job with cultural, historical, and political context in The Siege. Relations between India and Pakistan, and Hindus and Muslims, are complicated. It’s not something you can really simplify; it’s based on decades of tragedies, injustices, and slights on both sides. Scott-Clark and Levy do a great job giving the reader the information they need to know without turning this book into a history lesson. The focus of the narrative is where it needs to be: on the tragic events in Mumbai, but readers still are able to understand what is happening and why.
The research for The Siege is absolutely unmatched; the authors went so far to meet with a cofounder of the terrorist group Laskhar-e-Toiba in order to fully understand the events of November 26, 2008. The result is a stunning account of what really happened; Scott-Clark and Levy balance the personal stories and the sequence of larger events very well. There’s so much tension and suspense in this narrative; heroic moves by the Taj staff and guests are juxtaposed against the tragic inadequacies and ineffectiveness of the Indian response to the situation, at both the city police and higher levels. It’s hard to describe just how good The Siege is, so I won’t try any longer. All I will say that this is absolutely one of the best works of journalistic nonfiction that I have ever read, and I will be recommending it to everyone I come across.