The Commercial-News, Danville, IL

August 19, 2009

African adventure

Author tells doctor’s story in first book

BY MARY WICOFF

DANVILLE — Folks in Gessie, Ind., knew the Hollowell twins would make a name for themselves one day. As children, brothers Thomas and Terry were intelligent, creative and curious — traits that led them to travel the world and have adventures.

Now, Thomas, 30, who lives in Morocco, is traveling in the United States, promoting his first book, “Allah’s Garden.” The non-fiction book is getting good reviews from those who have read it.

“It’s wonderful,” said Janet Sare of Gessie, a former neighbor. The Hollowell boys and her grandson, Dustin Poer, now of Covington, Ind., used to play together.

“I’m proud of what he’s done with his life,” she said. “To have the courage, to go to a foreign country, and have the perseverance to stick with the guy (featured in the book) and to write the story … I’m truly amazed.”

“I knew when he was 4 years old, he was going to do something great,” Sare added.

The book tells the true story of a Moroccan doctor who was one of the longest-held POWs in world history, a victim of a forgotten war deep in the Sahara Desert of Morocco. Those Sahara sands have been long venerated by Muslims as Allah’s Garden.

The book takes a unique twist, however, as Hollowell intersperses accounts of his own life in Morocco among the chapters about the doctor’s captivity.

A publisher had suggested mixing Hollowell’s stories with the doctor’s to give people some lighter reading along the way. The book starts with the attack on the doctor’s village and ends with the author and the doctor meeting each other.

“It works … it gives people a break,” Hollowell said.

Love of travel

A 1996 graduate of North Vermillion High School, Hollowell and his twin graduated from Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Ind., in 2000. The brothers worked in Costa Rica for a short time.

Then, Thomas worked at the Center for Children’s Services in Danville for about a year and taught English as a Second Language at Danville Area Community College.

He joined the Peace Corps in 2002, and requested to be placed in Morocco. While at Wabash, he had met two Moroccans and was intrigued by their culture and country.

After less than a year with the Peace Corps, Hollowell decided to stay in the country. He worked in Rabat as a language instructor and later moved to Ifrane — where he lives now — and taught English at a high school. He speaks French and Arabic.

In 2003, one of his students invited him home to meet a man who had been a POW for 25 years; the student thought Hollowell could write a magazine article about the man’s life.

“I became enthralled with this guy’s story,” he said, referring to the doctor known as Azeddine. He interviewed the doctor at various times over the next year, and began writing the story.

“I wanted the book to be something that would read like a novel, but also read like nonfiction,” he said.

Hollowell talked to several authors and publishers before he settled upon the book’s present format. He spent more than three years writing and editing it.

Trip to Morocco

During this time, Hollowell left teaching and started a travel Web site called Journey Beyond Travel. The company offers customized tours of Morocco. He still owns it, but other people run it.

Because of that connection, he and the publisher are offering a free 10-night trip to Morocco in west Africa to two people whose names are chosen in a drawing. People who have bought the book are eligible for the drawing, with the winner announced in January.

“It’s a very secure country, very modern and Western in their thought,” he said. The people are friendly and hospitable, and rely on tourism. It’s also a diverse country, with coasts, mountains, forests and deserts.

Once his book was published, Yale University invited Hollowell to make presentations at its summer institute on health and conflict in the Middle East. The university paid for his flight to the United States.

He’s doing book signings now, including a book launch party in New York, and will stay in the Indiana area until Sept. 20. A book signing earlier this week at the Danville Public Library went well, he said, and another is planned for Saturday at Waldenbooks.

Hollowell has explored more than 35 countries and territories, and just finished writing “The Everything Travel Guide to Ireland,” which will be published in March. He also has several other writing projects in mind.

His twin, Terry, is a freelance writer in Connecticut, and also helps with the Moroccan tours. Their parents are Karol Pedraza of Gessie and David Hollowell of Covington.

COMING UP

Thomas Hollowell will sign copies of his book, “Allah’s Garden,” from 1-3 p.m. Saturday at Waldenbooks in the Village Mall. The 200-page softcover book, which sells for $14.95, is available at Waldenbooks or at most bookstores online. It’s published by Tales Press in Urbana.

ON THE WEB

-- More information about the book and registering to win a trip to Morocco is available at http://www.allahs-garden.com

-- The book’s publisher is at http://www.talespress.com

-- Hollowell’s site is http://www.thomashollowell.com

-- His travel company may be visited at http://www.journeybeyondtravel.com