The Shattered Lens
Jonathan Alpeyrie wanted to get that one great shot. Instead what he got was captivity.
“The Shattered Lens” is the account of Alpeyrie’s capture by Syrian rebels and his almost three-month stint as their hostage. This is followed by his description of what his family went through trying to free him, and his subsequent return to work as a war photographer, this time in Eastern Ukraine. Throughout his story, Alpeyrie meditates on the meaning of freedom and the experience of being caught up in the tides of history, for better or for worse.
Alpeyrie’s story is inherently gripping. His captivity could have been much worse, as he openly acknowledges: he was rarely beaten and suffered nothing in the way of out-and-out physical torture. Instead, he spent weeks in a state of insecurity, sort of as a guest–he was a high-value prisoner–and sort of as a despised captive who had to beg to be allowed to go the bathroom and fend off the sexual advances of his captors. His situation was at times farcical–the description of being forced to demonstrate to his teenage minders the proper technique for kissing and lovemaking was kind of funny to read, and kind of not, just like it appears to have been to experience firsthand–and at times led him to forge a genuine connection with some of his captors, whom, he says, he missed afterwards and made a point of keeping in touch with following his release.
Alpeyrie has a photographer’s eye, and it tells in the construction of the narrative, which is both detailed and fragmented: I couldn’t help but feel that what the text really needed was some photographs to make it complete. Still, it’s a highly interesting read: some of the best moments in the book are his close-up observations of minute details that then illustrate some wider point. Having spent a lot of quality time with rebels around the world, including, obviously, the Syrian rebels that the US is supporting, he has some sharp observations about the dangers of Islamist radicalism and the fact that the West should not necessarily trust these allies they’ve acquired for themselves. The juxtaposition of Syria and Ukraine is particularly telling, as in both places the West has gotten involved in situations it doesn’t understand, and made promises it can’t or won’t keep to people who are not actually as nice as we think they are. Alpeyrie has strong opinions on the subject that will not necessarily be welcome to all readers, but his story is a timely one, and full of interest for anyone studying this explosive moment in history.
My thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing a review copy of this book. All opinions are my own.