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The Dawn Prayer (Or How to Survive in a Secret Syrian Terrorist Prison): A Memoir

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A photographer captured in Syria and imprisoned for seven months recounts his story and how he became the first American ever to escape al-Qaeda. ''What is your name?'' asked General Mohammad. ''Matthew,'' I said. I had stopped saying Matt a while ago because it means 'dead' in Arabic. On New Year's Eve in 2012, Matthew Schrier was headed home from Syria, where he'd been phot A photographer captured in Syria and imprisoned for seven months recounts his story and how he became the first American ever to escape al-Qaeda. ''What is your name?'' asked General Mohammad. ''Matthew,'' I said. I had stopped saying Matt a while ago because it means 'dead' in Arabic. On New Year's Eve in 2012, Matthew Schrier was headed home from Syria, where he'd been photographing the intense combat of the country's civil war. Just forty-five minutes from the safety of the Turkish border, he was taken prisoner by the al-Nusra Front, an organization the world would come to know as the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda. Over the next seven months he would endure torture and near starvation in six brutal terrorist prisons. He would face a daily struggle just to survive. And, eventually, he would escape. In this gripping, raw, and surprisingly funny memoir, Schrier details the horrifying and frequently surreal experience of being a slight, wisecracking Jewish guy held captive by the world's most violent Islamic extremists. Managing to keep his heritage a secret, Schrier used humor to develop relationships with his captors -- and to keep himself sane during the long months of captivity. The Dawn Prayer (or How to Survive in a Secret Syrian Terrorist Prison) is a tale of patriotism and unimaginable bleakness shot through with light, of despair and friendship, sacrifice and betrayal, in a setting of bombed-out buildings and shifting alliances. It's the story of the first Westerner to escape al-Qaeda -- not a battle-hardened soldier, but an ordinary New Yorker who figured out how to set his escape plan in motion from a scene in Jurassic Park. From the prisoners' fiercely competitive hacky sack games and volleyball tournaments (played using a ball made of shredded orange peels and a shoelace) to his own truly nail-biting breakout, Matthew Schrier's story is unforgettable -- and one you won't want to miss.


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A photographer captured in Syria and imprisoned for seven months recounts his story and how he became the first American ever to escape al-Qaeda. ''What is your name?'' asked General Mohammad. ''Matthew,'' I said. I had stopped saying Matt a while ago because it means 'dead' in Arabic. On New Year's Eve in 2012, Matthew Schrier was headed home from Syria, where he'd been phot A photographer captured in Syria and imprisoned for seven months recounts his story and how he became the first American ever to escape al-Qaeda. ''What is your name?'' asked General Mohammad. ''Matthew,'' I said. I had stopped saying Matt a while ago because it means 'dead' in Arabic. On New Year's Eve in 2012, Matthew Schrier was headed home from Syria, where he'd been photographing the intense combat of the country's civil war. Just forty-five minutes from the safety of the Turkish border, he was taken prisoner by the al-Nusra Front, an organization the world would come to know as the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda. Over the next seven months he would endure torture and near starvation in six brutal terrorist prisons. He would face a daily struggle just to survive. And, eventually, he would escape. In this gripping, raw, and surprisingly funny memoir, Schrier details the horrifying and frequently surreal experience of being a slight, wisecracking Jewish guy held captive by the world's most violent Islamic extremists. Managing to keep his heritage a secret, Schrier used humor to develop relationships with his captors -- and to keep himself sane during the long months of captivity. The Dawn Prayer (or How to Survive in a Secret Syrian Terrorist Prison) is a tale of patriotism and unimaginable bleakness shot through with light, of despair and friendship, sacrifice and betrayal, in a setting of bombed-out buildings and shifting alliances. It's the story of the first Westerner to escape al-Qaeda -- not a battle-hardened soldier, but an ordinary New Yorker who figured out how to set his escape plan in motion from a scene in Jurassic Park. From the prisoners' fiercely competitive hacky sack games and volleyball tournaments (played using a ball made of shredded orange peels and a shoelace) to his own truly nail-biting breakout, Matthew Schrier's story is unforgettable -- and one you won't want to miss.

30 review for The Dawn Prayer (Or How to Survive in a Secret Syrian Terrorist Prison): A Memoir

  1. 5 out of 5

    Sara Dahabović

    “What is your name?” asked General Mohammad enthusiastically. “Matthew,” I said. I had stopped saying Matt a while ago because it means “dead” in Arabic. I have been postponing writing a review for this books for a while now, because I find it very hard to believe that this is a true story, Mathew was disrespectful with almost everyone, he also was trying to be very funny with his captivators almost the entire book which again I find very hard to believe, especially that he wasn't a military man “What is your name?” asked General Mohammad enthusiastically. “Matthew,” I said. I had stopped saying Matt a while ago because it means “dead” in Arabic. I have been postponing writing a review for this books for a while now, because I find it very hard to believe that this is a true story, Mathew was disrespectful with almost everyone, he also was trying to be very funny with his captivators almost the entire book which again I find very hard to believe, especially that he wasn't a military man before (assuming he would get used to these situations), he was just a photographer! Also I had this weird vibe that he was some kind of hero and that everything was under his control (WTH!) he was a prisoner of one the most terrorist organizations in the whole world! "An American Jew pretending to be a German-American Christian pretending to be a Sunni Muslim, and an atheist pretending to be a Christian had just gotten into a fight over a Koran. Only in fucking Syria." But I also don't want to be disrespectful of his experience, the situation in Syria is beyond explainable and seriously anything could happen there, all in all, I give it 2 solid stars for his experience only. Sorry Mathew! "It’s funny—in America the criminals are the ones you do your time with, but in Syria they’re the ones who run the prisons."

  2. 5 out of 5

    Jade

    The Dawn Prayer (Or How to Survive in a Secret Syrian Terrorist Prison) by Matthew Schrier is the story of Schrier’s seven months spent in captivity in a Syrian terrorist prison. He was kidnapped and held captive by the Syrian Al-Qaeda, Jabhat al-Nusra, in 2012 and managed to escape and make it back home to the US. Mainly with no help from anyone on this side of the world, and certainly not from any help inside the prisons. It’s pretty incredible that he made it out alive. I’m glad that Schrier p The Dawn Prayer (Or How to Survive in a Secret Syrian Terrorist Prison) by Matthew Schrier is the story of Schrier’s seven months spent in captivity in a Syrian terrorist prison. He was kidnapped and held captive by the Syrian Al-Qaeda, Jabhat al-Nusra, in 2012 and managed to escape and make it back home to the US. Mainly with no help from anyone on this side of the world, and certainly not from any help inside the prisons. It’s pretty incredible that he made it out alive. I’m glad that Schrier prefaces the book by kind of apologizing for how he may come across, as it kind of prepares you for what you read. You probably won’t really like him, especially not at first. Only three pages in and I wanted to tell him to shut up and stop being so bloody arrogant. But it’s really worth it to stick with him, I promise. Schrier’s style is interesting in a detached sort of way, but I suddenly realized about two thirds of the way through that the matter of fact, jokey tone that he uses is actually his way of being able to recount the horrors of his time in Syria. That it was also his way of getting through it all in one piece, and most likely how he manages to function normally now. It was his way of talking about how he made friends with other POWs, and how they would disappear, never to be heard of again that struck a huge chord with me. Of how alliances were made and broken within the cells and how, surprisingly, the strongest alliances he made became friendships, while the one that would have seemed the most obvious ended up being fraught with betrayal and contempt. It was however terribly hard for me to read about how much he despises his cell mate/other US citizen prisoner Theo, and how disgusted he is by him. The amount of times he hammers home how disgusting/stupid/idiotic/animalistic his cell mate is becomes slightly ridiculous. Everything Theo does is wrong, everything he says is stupid... But once in a while Schrier swoops down, godlike, to protect/save Theo. It’s almost as if he needs to prove how strong and smart he was by putting someone else down. I feel guilty even writing this because Schrier goes through his own fair share of torture and horror, and not only tries continuously to help himself survive but also others. But what struck me the most in his book is his contempt of Theo. Theo may well have been an awful companion/person (and yes he sounds like he had some serious issues, as well as an utter inability to help a fellow prisoner) but after a while I started zoning out every time I began to read what Theo had done wrong again. But, despite the talk of how much he despises Theo, the real terrors are very present in the book and I can’t even imagine how horrific Schrier’s time in Syria was. His courage and ability to keep on going despite it all is pretty exemplary. After I finished The Dawn Prayer I found it really helped me to watch videos of Schrier talking about his time in captivity. While his writing style grated on me a bit, he actually comes across as a really interesting, funny, and positive person on screen and in person. I do however want to read Theo’s recount of the time they spent together (although he most likely lies about it anyway, if Schrier’s personality description is accurate). The Dawn Prayer will be published by BenBella Books on April 3rd, 2018. Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for the advance copy!

  3. 4 out of 5

    Patty

    Wow - Where to start… In The Dawn Prayer, author Matthew Schrier tells how he survived and escaped from captivity by Al Qaeda in Syria. His torture and experiences are brutal and harrowing to read. He holds nothing back with his language, nor with his scorn in telling of the betrayal of his fellow American captive. The story is told from his side through his return to freedom. Equally as disgusting is learning of the actions and behavior of the FBI in all their ineptness, and puppeteering of Matth Wow - Where to start… In The Dawn Prayer, author Matthew Schrier tells how he survived and escaped from captivity by Al Qaeda in Syria. His torture and experiences are brutal and harrowing to read. He holds nothing back with his language, nor with his scorn in telling of the betrayal of his fellow American captive. The story is told from his side through his return to freedom. Equally as disgusting is learning of the actions and behavior of the FBI in all their ineptness, and puppeteering of Matthew’s financial losses, all in the name of exactly what is the question. Another sad indictment of that agency that leaves so many unanswered questions hanging (like what exactly were they doing?). The one thing that stands out is that Schrier is a survivor. At no time are politics ever introduced that reveals his leanings. He tells of his experience, where he made friends, had memorable moments, and found some small beauty in a situation most of us cannot even comprehend. If you think you can handle the intensity of what happens while being held captive by a brutal regime, give this book its due consideration. And remember when reading that Schrier was not a combatant — he was simply a photographer doing a job; one of our fellow citizens. The book is well written, and may his speaking of his experience bring him satisfaction in knowing that he is the epitome being loyal to his country. Thank you to NetGalley and BenBella Books for allowing me to read an Advance Review Copy of The Dawn Prayer. My review is entirely my own opinion and not in any way influenced by receiving this book.

  4. 5 out of 5

    lisa reents

    Interesting topic Lots of torture, too much but story great! These torturers are animals, very sad how they treat their fellow humans.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Bobby Title

    I had heard nothing about this book, so I was a bit leery when I saw it on the new book rack at the library. I do not do brutality and gore well, and I was not sure that this was a book for me. It was. I couldn't put the book down. The author has done an excellent showing and telling of what he and the others with him lived through - or not lived through, as happened in some cases. The ending of the book is very positive. The epilogue is "must" reading. I think every American needs to read this.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Carol

    So many characters that I couldn’t keep track of. Certainly a harrowing experience but I couldn’t connect to the author.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Leo

    Great narrative describing the details of the author's terrible ordeal and what skills he used to overcome his situation.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Stuart

    The author has a wonderful sense of humor which appears to have served him well during and post captivity, and it comes through in his writing. To some degree it probably helped save his life. Reading this book was intense to say the least. Man’s inhumanity to man in the 21st century continues to boggle the mind. I noticed at least one other reader questioned the authenticity of the story which I have to say I at first found surprising, but in today’s climate I can understand that too. I think f The author has a wonderful sense of humor which appears to have served him well during and post captivity, and it comes through in his writing. To some degree it probably helped save his life. Reading this book was intense to say the least. Man’s inhumanity to man in the 21st century continues to boggle the mind. I noticed at least one other reader questioned the authenticity of the story which I have to say I at first found surprising, but in today’s climate I can understand that too. I think for me what added credibility was his description of the FBI’s handling of his personal financial situation and how it was so FUBARred. Yep sounded exactly right. Good read worth my time. I did need a stiff drink at the end though.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Linda Layne

    I cannot really say that I "enjoyed" reading this book as it was about men being tortured, starved, etc., but I found the book very moving. I found myself completely absorbed when I would open the book and begin reading, having to force myself to put it down. I liked the way Mr. Schrier depicts the men he was imprisoned with, in that they were men, human beings, with families, a sense of humor, right, wrong, and the way they looked after one another as much as possible. This is his first book, I I cannot really say that I "enjoyed" reading this book as it was about men being tortured, starved, etc., but I found the book very moving. I found myself completely absorbed when I would open the book and begin reading, having to force myself to put it down. I liked the way Mr. Schrier depicts the men he was imprisoned with, in that they were men, human beings, with families, a sense of humor, right, wrong, and the way they looked after one another as much as possible. This is his first book, I look forward to future endeavors. He is a talented writer.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Gunnar Esiason

    This was a page turner. I couldn’t put it down. Ultimately it’s a frustrating read, learning about the daily physical torture and mental and emotional manipulation. At times it’s hard to imagine what happened inside one secret cell after the next. Schrier talks about finding the most unlikely of allies in the most unlikely of places throughout the story and seeing the best of humanity in the very worst of places. This story is one of adversity, resilience and a burning desire to get home. A harr This was a page turner. I couldn’t put it down. Ultimately it’s a frustrating read, learning about the daily physical torture and mental and emotional manipulation. At times it’s hard to imagine what happened inside one secret cell after the next. Schrier talks about finding the most unlikely of allies in the most unlikely of places throughout the story and seeing the best of humanity in the very worst of places. This story is one of adversity, resilience and a burning desire to get home. A harrow tale, but an important read.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Andy Huette

    This was a fascinating read of a guy who got kidnapped by terrorists, lived through 7 months of imprisonment and torture, and hatched an escape plan that worked. There’s a disclaimer in the intro that the language in the book is vulgar due to the nature of the content, and indeed, if you’re sensitive to profanity this book is not for you. All in all, though, it was an interesting read and I give it 3.9/5. Goodreads...the masses are clamoring for precision in the ratings system! Viva Le Revolutio This was a fascinating read of a guy who got kidnapped by terrorists, lived through 7 months of imprisonment and torture, and hatched an escape plan that worked. There’s a disclaimer in the intro that the language in the book is vulgar due to the nature of the content, and indeed, if you’re sensitive to profanity this book is not for you. All in all, though, it was an interesting read and I give it 3.9/5. Goodreads...the masses are clamoring for precision in the ratings system! Viva Le Revolution!

  12. 4 out of 5

    Maya Jarkas

    Very exciting story & easy read. I can't imagine what the author has been through in captivity, hope no more people have to endure such torture.. I was a bit put off by his hatred towards Theo which took over the story and his ego. Closing the book by saying that his survival techniques were being taught in the FBI etc was a bit farfetched. An experience like this can often be humbling. Nonetheless definitely worth a read Very exciting story & easy read. I can't imagine what the author has been through in captivity, hope no more people have to endure such torture.. I was a bit put off by his hatred towards Theo which took over the story and his ego. Closing the book by saying that his survival techniques were being taught in the FBI etc was a bit farfetched. An experience like this can often be humbling. Nonetheless definitely worth a read

  13. 5 out of 5

    Trevor

    Amazing story Heard the author do a plug for this book on the radio and new I had to check it out. And it definitely did not disappoint. Incredible read and an incredible story. I was constantly on the edge of my seat or tears as Matt shares the horrors he faced and saw in Syria.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Rob Pruden

    This is an extremely easy and likeable read despite the fact that it delves into some heinous situations. The author mixes humor with horror in a very engaging manner which makes this exploration into a world most of us will never (thankfully) have to experience first-hand. I highly recommend this book

  15. 4 out of 5

    Joseph

    I thought this book was a really fast read but was a really detailed account of what prisoners of war experience. The book was a real account and had people that were likable and unlikable. I thought this book really educates you on what happens when you get taken prisoner for no reason. I thought that this book was pretty sad but really told you a real account.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Tim Hill

    A spellbinding first-person account of an American photographer held & tortured for seven months by the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda. Apart from the dramas and the horrors he recounts, it is a fascinating look at the worst of humanity, and how he tried to keep his. The first book in a long time about which I can honestly say I had trouble putting it down. A spellbinding first-person account of an American photographer held & tortured for seven months by the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda. Apart from the dramas and the horrors he recounts, it is a fascinating look at the worst of humanity, and how he tried to keep his. The first book in a long time about which I can honestly say I had trouble putting it down.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Lori

    Read this in two days. Riveting true story.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Cassandra Blankenship

    Incredible story by a man determined to survive! A page turner for me! Well written. Thank you, Mr. Schrier, for sharing.

  19. 5 out of 5

    T

    Listened to the audio version. Amazing story.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Rich Beckwith

    Captivating story. Disappointed in the faith conversion…I personally question the return to his “born” faith status after Turkey chapter!?

  21. 4 out of 5

    Sarah Flood

    Interesting to read. As a fellow Long Islander I was curious. Not what I was expecting but good read none the less.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Emma S

    One man’s self-justifying screed about how he hated his cellmate. Fortunately for him, the story remains interesting despite his best attempts to destroy it.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Ryan Riggs

    Such a great book. It is oddly funny given the subject matter. I highly recommend it.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Dan

    Really cool book, totally not what I was expecting. The writer has a unique style.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Christopher

    A great book

  26. 5 out of 5

    Hayley Connor

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Really great book. I am interested to hear other perspectives especially from Theo. Schrier really seems to dislike Theo so would like to read his side of the story.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Mariah

    3.5 it was very interesting and sad and disturbing. Some of it was a little unbelievable, namely how much of a jerk and an idiot he made Theo out to be.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Cyrene

    Read a bunch of torture memoirs for my politics of torture class and this was hands down the best one.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Angel Diaz

    One of the best books I've ever read that has kept me engage for 5 hours straight. This rarely happens. Looking for books very similar to this.

  30. 5 out of 5

    A. Moses

    A harrowing story of one man's wits used to endure torture, befriend fellow prisoners and his captors, survive months of captivity, and ultimately escape. Excellent read!

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