After the hijacking of the U.S.-flagged sailing vessel Quest in the Indian Ocean in February 2011, Corban Addison “watched the media coverage of the tragedy with a heavy heart and a curious eye”. It was that curiosity which led to his writing of The Tears of Dark Water. However, I must stress here (as the author does in his note) that The Tears of Dark Water is not a retelling of the Quest incident, despite the similarities the narrative shares with that terrible event.
Whatever its provenance, The Tears of Dark Water is a poignant and commanding read. The power of Addison’s third novel is at least partially rooted in its subject matter, it deals with topics that people in the Western world would be likely to be aware of but may not truly understand. The issues of piracy, Islamist extremism and the state of affairs in a country such as Somalia surround the intimate “everyday” domestic problems of the hostages and their family. This not only makes the violence in the novel more jarring but also interestingly illuminates how matters such as piracy and extremism are also everyday evils taking place across the world. Although Addison himself admits to not being expert in any of these areas, he did embark upon a long and in depth research process prior to writing the novel, giving him some degree of insight that the average reader would not necessarily possess.
At the centre of Addison’s narrative are Daniel Parker and his teenage son, Quentin, who are taken hostage when Ismail and his men seize their sailboat in the Indian Ocean. We follow their struggle along with that of Daniel’s wife Vanessa who goes through her own emotional turmoil back home in America during the days they are captive and the trial in court following the attack. Addison’s story provides his readers with not only the Parker family’s insight but also the perspectives of Ismail and other significant characters such as the lead negotiator, who has been brought in to talk with the hostage takers, and the negotiator’s sister who later becomes Ismail’s defence lawyer. This interesting combination of perspectives gives the narrative a depth that a multitude of voices typically allows for, leading to a more detailed and extensive account of events. The reader discovers vital information through these extra voices, for instance we know the decisions made by officials during the time Daniel and Quentin were taken hostage. Information such as this becomes key later in the novel when the trials are taking place.
However, the perspective of Ismail, for example, as well as adding another layer to the narrative, stirs the comfortable nook that readers can sometimes find themselves in – following the story of the hostage taker is an interesting enhancement to the narrative. This is especially true as we are provided with his insight, giving more detail to the events throughout the hostage taking as he tries to stay in control of the situation.
“The current had set them a few miles south, but that was easy to correct. He made a few calculations and then sat back and waited, working through his plan for the next twenty-four hours until he could recite the sequence by heart, one step after the other, like dominoes falling.”
Addison also exposes his readers to glimpses of Ismail’s back-story. In The Tears of Dark Water, there is no main protagonist, as various characters play major roles in driving the narrative forward, creating a complex yet rich plot.
The Tears of Dark Water is a book which can be highly recommended. It is comprised of touching stories from a variety of characters with differing pasts that are woven into a single narrative of a traumatic event. Through the imaginative foundations of the novel, Corban Addison conveys very real and harrowing issues that open the reader’s eyes to some of the evils surrounding both piracy and the wider world.