Surviving Dreamland: Escape From Terror by William F. Penoyar takes us deep inside Iraq, before and during the invasion that was Operation Iraqi Freedom. Lara Al-Mohammed was just a baby when her parents fled Iraq and settled in Ann-Arbor, Michigan. When Lara graduated High School and before starting University studies, to potentially become a doctor, like her father, she was encouraged to visit her relatives in Mosul, Iraq, to get in touch with the Iraqi side of her heritage. Taking the opportunity with both hands, Lara decides to stay on in Iraq for one year and attend University in Baghdad. Little does she know the country is about to be entangled in an invasion by coalition forces, led by the US, to uncover the mythical weapons of mass destruction. When she, her cousin and three of her university room-mates are kidnapped by Saddam Hussein’s son, Uday for his depraved use, Lara begins a journey of fear and horror. Major Joe Keith is commander of Task Force 20 Delta, one of a number of Special Op teams injected into Iraq prior to the invasion to search for the weapons of mass destruction. Lana and Joe’s paths are destined to cross as they both become entangled in the search to find and destroy Uday Hussein.
Surviving Dreamland: Escape From Terror is a combat thriller that incorporates all the elements of an exciting action novel yet subtly blends in elements of ordinary Iraqi lives. What I liked about this story was author William F. Penoyar’s determination to not show this as a “gung-ho” glory show for the Americans. He was careful to show us the impact of Hussein and his murderous regime on everyday Iraqi’s but not gloss over the fear, trepidation and often outright rejection of the coalition’s invasion of their country. The characters he developed showed he had an intimate understanding of the realities of war and especially of special force’s operations. Equally the author seemed well versed in Iraqi culture and life, as well as being conversant with the region. I particularly enjoyed the moments of introspection that the soldiers underwent went they realised that the “weapons of mass destruction” may be over-exaggerated, yet they understood their duty to their commanders. Also Major Joe’s dilemma over whether to surrender his life as a special force’s leader to ensure the survival of his marriage and to be around for his children’s formative years gave a real human touch to the big, brave, special-forces’ commander. It is surely a dilemma many armed force’s personnel must face on a regular basis. This is a thoroughly enjoyable and satisfying read and one I highly recommend.