Posted by: Lisa Hill | November 15, 2014

Walking Free (2014) by Munjed Al Muderis, with Patrick Weaver

Walking FreeWalking Free is an extraordinary memoir: if someone rewrote it as a novel, readers would say it was unrealistic.  Yet this story is true…

Munjed Al Muderis was born into a privileged family in Iraq under the regime of Saddam Hussein.  He survived its wars with Iran and Kuwait, and the First Gulf War, and despite disruptions to his education managed to graduate as a doctor.  He got married, and had a child, and lived what passed for a normal life in Saddam’s Iraq…

Until the fateful day that changed his life forever.  He was working as a junior surgeon at the Saddam Hussein Medical Centre in Baghdad when busloads of army deserters were hauled into the hospital by a team of heavily armed soldiers.  To their horror, the surgeons were ordered to amputate the tops of the deserters’ ears, by order of Saddam Hussein.

Then I saw three burly officers striding along the corridor towards the operating theatre.  They were menacingly huge, heavily armed and dressed in full camouflage uniform with combat boots – the most finely honed instruments of Saddam’s brutality.  As they approached they were giving orders to staff to immediately begin the surgery.  The most senior doctor in the operating theatre refused their instructions.  He told the officers he had taken a solemn oath to do no harm to his patients.  Straight away he was marched to the hospital car park, briefly interrogated and then shot in front of a number of medical staff. The military thugs then came back to the operating theatre and bluntly told us, ‘If anyone shares his view, step forward.  Otherwise carry on.’ (p.134)

Muderis shared the view of this brave senior doctor, but he didn’t want to die.  He slipped out of the theatre unobserved, hid in the women’s toilets for five hours,  and then fled.  He had no plan, only an instinct to escape Iraq before the authorities caught up with him. With a combination of luck, loyal friends, and bribery using his mother’s money he made his way to Jordan, and from there to Malaysia where he hoped to be able to get work as a doctor.

It was in Kuala Lumpur that he found himself using his fluency in English to help a couple of refugees who were taking the people-smuggling route to Australia, and through a complex web of circumstances he ended up joining them on the boat to Christmas Island.  From there he was sent to the notorious Curtin Detention Centre in the remote Western Australian desert, a place deliberately designed to dehumanise the internees.  There he was always addressed by his assigned number 942, arbitrarily punished with solitary confinement and repeatedly told to go back to where he came from.

In 2000 after 10 months he was granted refugee status and finally freed.  And despite the way Australia treated him, Muderis has remained here and forged a new life, becoming one of the world’s top osseointegration surgeons.  It is extraordinary to think that if he had buckled under the stress and trauma of Curtin, this brilliant man might never have pioneered the techniques that have changed the lives of amputees.

Muderis bookends his book with the story of Michael Swain, a British soldier who lost both his legs in Afghanistan.  Thanks to Muderis, he was able to walk unaided  at his investiture to receive an MBE from the Queen.

This is a compelling story, recounting details of life in Iraq that go beyond the headlines and revealing aspects of internment in Australia that more people should know about.   Patrick Weaver, the journalist who worked with Muderis on this memoir, has done an excellent job of bringing a powerful story to life.

Also see this review at the SMH.

Author: Munjed Al Muderis, with Patrick Weaver
Title: Walking Free
Publisher: Allen and Unwin, 2014
ISBN: 9781760110727
Source: Review copy courtesy of Allen and Unwin.


Fishpond: Walking Free





  1. Excellent review of this account of the life of a determined and brave man in a vile situation. Yet again you make me want to read it now – err except my TBR mountains are now falling over. On my wish list though.
    A reader I met when last in Australia is recommending the Adelaide Literary Festival to me…….


    • Ah yes indeed, Carol, the Adelaide LitFest is on my bucket list too. I’ve never been able to go because of school, but with retirement not far away now all kinds of opportunities beckon.


  2. That sounds so good, Lisa! I don’t read much non-fiction, but I’m going to put this one on my list. Thanks for bringing it to our attention.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well, you know me, I’m not one for sad memoirs, but this book is so well-written and the story so compelling, I couldn’t put it down.


      • Your enthusiasm came through in your review. That is largely what decided me.


        • Thank you! BTW I am writing my review of my latest Zola as we speak, I hope to have it up on both blogs before long:)


  3. This sounds like a ‘must read’ for every Australian.


    • Yes indeed – and for a couple of politicians especially!


      • Well, I finally got around to reading this book – it only took me 3 years 😄. I particularly liked the early section where he outlines his experiences in Iraq during the conflicts. Hard to come to terms with the brutality of the detention camps – we call ourselves the lucky country 😑. Well worth reading – thanks for bringing it to my attention.


        • Sometimes I feel as if I[‘m on another planet – no one I know supports those camps, and yet I know that politicians have made these decisions for the most cynical of reasons, because they are electorally popular…


  4. Thanks for this, Lisa. Sounds like my sort of book and seems to be available in UK (on kindle anyway) so have added it to my 10-page long (!!!) wishlist.


    • LOL at least with a kindle you haven’t got the books staring accusingly at you!


  5. […] For another take on Walking Free, please see Lisa from ANZ LitLovers review. […]


  6. […] only other book I’ve read by an Iraqi was Walking Free by the refugee surgeon Munjed Al-Muderis, so the vibrancy of the urban settings in Frankenstein in […]


  7. […] Walking Free […]


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