The Story Behind The Tears of Dark Water

193 On February 18, 2011, a band of Somali pirates hijacked the U.S.-flagged sailing vessel Quest in the Indian Ocean, taking four Americans hostage. The U.S. government responded to the crisis with overwhelming force, deploying three Navy ships, a crack team of SEALs, and an FBI negotiator to bring the sailors home. For four days, the pirates sailed the Quest toward Somalia while the Navy tried to negotiate a resolution. Finally, sixty miles from the coast, the USS Sterett, a Navy destroyer, attempted a “shouldering” maneuver, hoping to change the sailboat’s course and buy additional time. As the destroyer closed in, three pirates opened fire on the hostages, killing all of them.

I watched the media coverage of the tragedy with a heavy heart and a curious eye, wondering how the government’s extraordinary intervention could have gone so terribly wrong. After the incident faded from the headlines, my literary agent suggested I write a novel about lawlessness in the Horn of Africa. I was working on The Garden of Burning Sand at the time and set the concept aside. When my publishers asked for a third book, I dusted it off and dived in.294

Before writing The Tears of Dark Water, I went on a research odyssey unlike anything I have attempted before. Along with immersing myself in the relative literature, I interviewed officials in the U.S. government, got to know a former hostage negotiator from the FBI, learned how to sail on the Chesapeake Bay, toured the FBI Academy, went to the trial of the Quest pirates, and spent time with Somalis in Minneapolis. After that, I flew to the Horn of Africa and sailed in the Seychelles, interviewed officials in Bahrain, landed on the USS Truman in the Arabian Sea and spent three nights at sea with the Navy, traveled to Nairobi, Mogadishu, and the Dadaab refugee area in northern Kenya, and then wrapped it all up with a weekend in Zanzibar.

The Tears of Dark Water is not just a story about Somali piracy. It is about the multi-dimensional fallout of Somalia’s disintegration over the past twenty years, both for the Somali people and for the rest of the world. In essence, it is about the problem of violence–one of the most fundamental and perplexing social issues faced by human beings. It is also, and just as essentially, about the question of forgiveness. When I was writing the story, I didn’t want it to end. Of all the books I’ve written, this is the one closest to my heart.