• Six Years a Hostage

  • The Extraordinary Story of the Longest-Held Al Qaeda Captive in the World
  • By: Stephen McGown
  • Narrated by: Byron Mondahl
  • Length: 10 hrs and 56 mins
  • 4.8 out of 5 stars (28 ratings)

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Six Years a Hostage

By: Stephen McGown
Narrated by: Byron Mondahl
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Publisher's Summary

The extraordinary story of the longest-held Al Qaeda captive in the world.

Stephen McGown was en route from London to South Africa, on a once-in-a-lifetime trip by motorbike, returning home to Johannesburg. He had reached Timbuktu, in Mali, when he was captured, along with a Dutch and a Swedish national, by Al Qaeda Islamist militants. Steve was taken because he held a British passport. He was subsequently held hostage at various camps in the Sahara Desert in the north-west of Africa for nearly six years before eventually being released.

Life as Steve had known it changed in that instant that he was taken at gunpoint. He had nothing to bargain with and everything to lose. For the next six years, he reluctantly engaged in what he came to call the greatest chess game of his life.  

Thousands of kilometres to the south, in Johannesburg, the shock of Stephen's capture struck the McGown family and his wife, Cath, with whom he had, until recently, been living in London. They immediately began efforts to secure Steve's release, through diplomatic channels and in every other way they felt might have a chance of seeing Stephen freed.  

But as the months of captivity became years, Steve was compelled to go to extraordinary lengths to survive. Making it back home alive became his sole aim. To accomplish this, he realised that he would have to do everything he could to raise his status in the eyes of his captors. To this end, he taught himself Arabic and French, and also converted to Islam, accepting a new name, Lot. 

To this day, Steve retains the unenviable record of being the longest-held surviving prisoner of Al Qaeda. While he was undoubtedly always Al Qaeda's captive, through the long years he spent in intimate proximity to his captors, Steve got to see the Islamist militants as few other Westerners have ever seen them. 

Six Years a Hostage is not only a remarkable story of mental strength, physical endurance and the resilience of the human spirit, but also, significantly, a unique and nuanced perspective on one of the world's most feared terrorist groups. Steve did not merely survive his terrible ordeal; he emerged from the desert a changed - stronger, more positive - human being. 

This is Stephen McGown's remarkable story, as told to Tudor Caradoc-Davies, a freelance writer, editor and author based in Cape Town, South Africa. After seven years spent working for glossy magazines such as Men's Health, GQ, Best Life and Women's Health, he now contributes to a range of publications. He also writes for the (South African) Sunday Times, and Red Bulletin.

©2021 Stephen McGown (P)2021 Hachette Audio UK

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couldn't stop listening

harrowing account. author went through hell and came out better. fascinating, gripping, real. after the first chapter, you won't be able to stop it.

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It's a visit to the desert you won't forget.

We need to learn from each others stories. This is a good story to learn from.

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absolutely amazing

This is one of the best books I've listened to in a very long time...emotional, compelling. I definitely recommend it

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Gripping stuff!

Wow! I couldn't stop listening. What a story! Many life lessons as well as insight. I would also give the narrator 10 out of 10!

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Excellently written biography

This was a captivating book. Not only because of the story, but the sensitive, introspective and multi-perspective manner in which the book is written and presented. There are chapters written from the perspective of the author's (and thus the hostage's) wife and father. This provides the story with an extra gripping and actually heart-wrenching edge. It brings the tragedy and the absolute trauma of the event to life and thus the book isn't just reduced to a memoire, but to something that you feel in the depth of your soul. I was a bit traumatised and teary for a few days. Not because of violence or horror - there is little violence retold in this book - but because of the enormous emotional burden that such an event places on the victim's very soul and on the victim's family. I feel a bit heart broken when I think about it, but I really feel that this book has been so sensitively written that I am encouraged by the author's journey - that the human soul can be absolutely crushed and then can recover - if one is willing and receptive and if one allows oneself TIME. This was one of the greatest take-aways from this book for me - horrible gut-wrenching tragedies can hi-jack our lives. But if one allows the spirit and soul the required humility, openness and time to heal, in most circumstances, one needn't remain broken. Well done to the author, I think you did a great job.
The narrator is very average (sorry narrator!). I LOVED that it was a South African who was the narrator, since the story is written from the perspective of a South African. However, I was very disappointed that the narrator was struggling with pronunciation of words and names that were not English. I believe he did his best, by his child-like, slow and deliberate pronunciation of Afrikaans and African names in the book, but it did sound like he never really had to pronounce these names before, and they are quite common in South Africa and one should not have trouble pronouncing htem. I also found his pronunciation of some of the Arabic words unsatisfactory - by now we should all know how to pronounce Allahu Akbar correctly, it is not an uncommon phrase, although Arabic is not commonly heard in South Africa. Other than that, I enjoyed to listen to the narrator.

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  • Mark C
  • 08-16-21

Great book terrible narration

This is an amazing story well told. But I could hardly bear to listen to the awful narrator. He mispronounces words like ‘Niger’ and ‘baobab! And stresses the wrong words all the time. I’d buy the book - and read it - rather than listening to the audio version.

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  • Anell Cummins
  • 09-17-22

Riveting

Couldn’t stop listening. The detail and feeling in every word was amazing. Give it a 10

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  • Anonymous User
  • 12-26-21

Incredible story!

Thank you, Steven, for sharing the most amazing story, for its honesty, for sharing the impact on both you and your family, and the reminder of what is truly important. All the best, Evan