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Biography & Autobiography Personal Memoirs

Season In Hell

My 130 Days in the Sahara with Al Qaeda

by (author) Robert Fowler

HarperCollins Canada
Initial publish date
Nov 2011
Personal Memoirs, General
  • eBook

    Publish Date
    Nov 2011
    List Price

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For decades, Robert R. Fowler was a dominant force in Canadian foreign affairs. In one heart-stopping minute, all of that changed. On December 14, 2008, Fowler, acting as the UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy to Niger, was kidnapped by Al Qaeda, becoming the highest ranked UN official ever held captive. Along with his colleague Louis Guay, Fowler lived, slept and ate with his captors for nearly five months, gaining rare first-hand insight into the motivations of the world’s most feared terror group. Fowler’s capture, release and subsequent media appearances have helped shed new light on foreign policy and security issues as we enter the second decade of the “War on Terror.”

A Season in Hell is Fowler’s compelling story of his captivity, told in his own words, but it is also a startlingly frank discussion about the state of a world redefined by clashing civilizations.

About the author

ROBERT R. FOWLER joined the Department of External Affairs in 1969 and was posted to Paris in 1971 and to the Canadian Permanent Mission to the United Nations in 1976. In 1980, he was seconded to the Privy Council Office as assistant secretary to the Cabinet (Foreign and Defence Policy), where he served as foreign policy advisor to Prime Ministers Trudeau, Turner and Mulroney. In 1986, Mr. Fowler became assistant deputy minister (Policy) in the Department of National Defence and then served as deputy minister from 1989 to 1995. From 1995 to 2000, he was Canada’s longest-serving ambassador to the United Nations, following which he was named ambassador to Italy and also personal representative for Africa for Prime Ministers Chrétien and Harper. Fowler retired from the Canadian public service in 2006 and is a senior fellow at the University of Ottawa’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs. He was appointed an Officer in the Order of Canada in November 2011. He lives in Ottawa with his wife, Mary.

Robert Fowler's profile page


  • Unknown, British Columbia National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction
  • Unknown, Arthur Ellis Award for Non-fiction
  • Unknown, Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction
  • Unknown, Ottawa Book Award for English Non-Fiction

Editorial Reviews

“A page-turner from beginning to end. . . . A tale of courage and human triumph.” — The Globe and Mail

“Vital reading.” — National Post

“Fowler has captured the terror of his ordeal in direct, rich, and vibrant prose. . . . A riveting narrative about an experience many others would not have survived.” — Lt.-Gen. the Honourable Roméo A. Dallaire (Ret.), Senator

“What a remarkable book this is. The writing is clear, compelling, visceral . . . The story leaves you gasping . . . It’s been eons since I’ve read a work of non-fiction where every page grabs your heart.” — Stephen Lewis

“A story of courage and determination in the face of fear and terror; a story of international political intrigue where the personal and political stakes could not be higher. . . . [Fowler] is among Canada’s most distinguished heroes.” — James Orbinski, MD, author of An Imperfect Offering and Chair in Global Health at the University of Toronto

“Through this fascinating account of his time spent in gruelling captivity, Robert Fowler shows us the power of the human spirit in the face of adversity and danger.” — Kofi A. Annan, Secretary-General of the United Nations (1997-2006), Chairman of the Kofi Annan Foundation

“An engaging, clearly written story: subtle, informative, at times very moving, but never maudlin.” — Literary Review of Canada

“The book reads with the tension and pacing of a fictional thriller. . . .Fowler’s gripping account, from the moment of his abduction, is astonishingly detailed, at times chillingly detached and at times heart-wrenchingly moving.” — Jury Citation, the B.C. National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction