Before I go any further with this review, I’d like you all to know that for Christmas, in terms of books, all I got were war memoirs. I’m not entirely what this says about me as a person. Compassionate individual who takes an intellectual interest in history? Or blood-obsessed reader who takes pleasure in other’s pain?
Walking Free tells the incredible story of Iraqi-born surgeon, Munjed Al Muderis – a man who faced terrible odds and circumstances to become one of the world’s leading osseointegration surgeons. Set during the time when Iraq is first invaded, Muderis is training to become a surgeon when he faces a terrible choice – a squad of Military Police (the bad guys) arrive at his hospital and demand that he and his team perform surgery and remove the ears on a group of army deserters. Out of three options – main, be killed or flee – Muderis chooses to flee, leading him to a long, dangerous journey that takes him to Australia. However, when Muderis finally makes it to Australia he faces another challenge – the anguishes of Australia’s refugee camps.
Quite frankly, Muderis’s story is amazing. Bone-chilling and harrowing at times, frustrating at others, the circumstances that Murderis survives are simply astounding – and that’s without taking in the courage and fortitude that Muderis has throughout.
As I stated in the opening paragraph of this review, I’m interested in war history, particularly if it’s from an unusual perspective. In this regard, Walking Free ticked the boxes. Here is an incredible narrator who defied all odds to become a leader in his field, and one who can show us into the lives of those that we so rarely have the chance to hear from. Amazing stuff, yes. But still, despite all this, I had two big problems with Walking Free that stopped it from being a fantastic read.
Firstly, the problem I’ve found with war memoirs is if they aren’t written well, or more importantly, if they aren’t written by the narrator, then they quickly lose steam. When they’ve been filtered through from narrator to writer, as is the case with Walking Free, the emotions, nuances and, most importantly, the voice gets lost amongst all the facts. Instead of the cadences, feelings and little pieces of mise en scene we’re left with facts devoid of spirit – a weird irony considering the subject matter. As any good author or editor will tell you, a great book is all about showing rather than telling the reader what is occurring, and this is something that seems to fall by the wayside in Walking Free. As a reader I’m not given the opportunity to discover things for myself, to imagine places, atmosphere or emotions – instead I’m being directed, forcibly, through event after event.
Secondly, one aspect of Muderis’s life that I was fascinated by was his work as an osseointegration surgeon – or, in layman’s terms, Muderis creates robotic arms and legs and attaches them to amputees. Seriously, can you think of a more impressive job? Yet Muderis’s work in this field is pushed right up until the final chapter, as though this aspect of his life isn’t important.
Walking Free is an incredible story and Munjed Al Muderis is clearly a courageous man, but even this wasn’t enough to keep me hooked. Some people may very well love this memoir, but for those who need more than just facts to get them through a book, then I’d give this one a miss.
Have you read Walking Free or heard of Munjed Al Muderis’s story? Are you a fan of war history? Let me know!