Meticulously researched by authors Cathy Scott-Clark and Adrian Levy, The Siege: 68 Hours Inside The Taj Hotel is a riveting account of the Nov. 26, 2008, terrorist attack on Mumbai, India, by ten young Pakistani men affiliated with the group Lashkar-e-Toiba.
The staff of the Taj Hotel — men and women who were chefs, waiters, restaurant managers and security personnel — performed countless acts of heroism during the siege and many sacrificed themselves so that others could escape. Although ill-prepared materially for the attack — some patrolmen were armed with pre-World War II bolt-action rifles, others only with bamboo canes — many of the Mumbai police displayed exceptional valor and commitment while attempting to stop men armed with assault rifles, grenades and plastic explosives.
The narrative is gripping, filled with tension and stories of heroism and heartbreak. In turns the reader will experience dread, triumph, tragedy and simmering frustration at the inadequate response by city, state and national authorities. Mumbai was not prepared for the violence these ten men visited upon it, which is all the more staggering given its proximity to Pakistan and prior record of terrorist bombing activity.
I give full credit to the authors, as they tell a highly complex story — interweaving the personal stories of a dozen or more people swept up in the attack — in a natural, eminently readable style. I’ve seen this book favorably compared to Mark Bowden’s Black Hawk Down — an assessment I wholeheartedly agree with.
Veteran investigative reporters well versed in the region, Scott-Clark and Levy provide insight into the motivations of the Lashkar-e-Toiba and the different paths the ten men took to get to the point where they were stepping off a boat on the shores of India, bent on killing and sowing terror. Without relying on a linear timeline, the narrative shifts seamlessly between various eyewitnesses and participants, with some events told from multiple perspectives.
Although the attack against Mumbai involved more targets than the Taj Hotel, as the title suggests the luxury hotel is the prime focus of this book. The events at the Trident-Oberoi Hotel, train station and Chabad House are referred to, but not examined in detail. The narrower focus doesn’t make this book any less critical to understanding what happened; future readers should just be aware it is not all-encompassing.
I highly recommend it.
Note: Longstanding readers of this blog know I don’t spend as much time with my reviews of traditionally published works as I do with those of Indie authors, a community which I’m proud to be a part of.