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pirates of somalia

Imagine working in an office at age 24 and wanting to become a journalist, but instead of going the traditional route of a formal education, you book yourself a ticket to Somalia to interview pirates… as they’re actively hijacking cargo ships. In 2011, that’s exactly what writer Jay Bahadur did, and his book The Pirates Of Somalia is one of the best travel books I’ve ever read.

Earlier this year a movie by the same name was released and despite good acting, the original story gets muddled with what is clearly Hollywood executive meddling. It’s often the case that the book a movie is based on is better but Bahadur’s story is so compelling, the movie should have stuck much closer to the true story.

Adventure In Journalism

I’m not going to compare The Pirates Of Somalia movie with the book as much as tell you to read the book, despite what you may have thought of the film. In both cases, The Pirates Of Somalia starts with Bahadur’s wild idea to get a story others can’t by going to its troublesome source. The book however, covers in depth the scattershot planning it took to make this trip to Somalia plus interview pirates leaders, possible. No journalist prior had gotten such interviews and I’m sure more than a few intelligence agencies wish they had such access.

the pirates of somaliaThe Pirates of Somalia: Inside Their Hidden World

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Ultimately, the planning is fascinating because it starts with Bahadur making calls and pulling connections on his own – you can imagine yourself reading this right now – following the same steps; next thing you know you’re on a 1970s Soviet-era Atonov plane headed for Puntland. (Puntland, the center of Somali piracy, is an unrecognized autonomous region in Somalia.) The movie doesn’t go into this section enough but travel enthusiasts would especially enjoy seeing the calculated chaos Bahadur’s route to Somalia took, dramatized on-screen.

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Nerves Across The Pages

Bahadur does a really good job of transmitting his cool but logically anxious mind after he arrives in Somalia. There’s a naivety in the writing without straying far from the reality that things could go horribly wrong. Insulting a pirate, running into the wrong group of armed criminals, jihadists, other pirates, or a hundred other ways to get killed at worse, kidnapped at best.

In the movie, the most captivating parts (aside from anytime Al Pacino is on-screen) are the moments of complete unpredictability in what’s to come for Bahadur. Where the movie doesn’t make time to go in-depth enough into each character’s arch, the book’s writing is very personal. The Pirates Of Somalia is written almost like a journal, but structured to give you a deeper look at the people who are pirates, at all levels in the organization. Pirates are humanized, criminal motivations dissected, and a love of Land Rovers plus addiction to khat, exposed.

No To Romance

The story of piracy in Somalia has been romanticized. Although there is a very tragic element to it, the widely circulated narrative of fisherman looking for justice isn’t the reality. I won’t spoil the book but Bahadur’s adventure leads to a deep insights about Somalia any reader will benefit from. (Bahadur is now an investigator for the United Nations in Somalia.)

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In the film, there’s a weak subplot about an old girlfriend that could have been discarded in favor of more scenes with the pirates, demonstrating the exploitation and modern mythos within the gangs. But The Pirates Of Somalia movie, like these 8 motorcycle books, should give you an anxious enough glimpse of the full story you’ll really want to read on your next flight.