American Mother | When a great writer recounts a mother’s struggle

The name James Foley may not mean much to you today. But who doesn’t remember these images of Western journalists in orange jumpsuits, in the middle of the desert, held hostage by the jihadists of the Islamic State group 10 years ago?

On the same day that the photo of James Foley made headlines after he was beheaded by jihadists in 2014, Colum McCann, author ofAnd may the vast world continue its mad race, himself received a photo of the American journalist reading his famous novel, sent by friends of his.

“I was looking for something to write about at the time and contacted her mother, Diane Foley, to tell her that if she needed someone to write about her life story, I was willing to do it,” confides the Irish writer, contacted in New York, where he has lived for more than 30 years.

I thought I could be kind of a story whisperer.

Colum McCann

His message remained unanswered until the day, years later, a combination of circumstances allowed him to speak with Diane Foley… who had never received his request. And their meeting ultimately led to the writing of the book American Mother.


James Foley was captured in Syria in 2012 by the jihadists of the Islamic State group and held hostage until his execution in 2014.

A mother’s voice

In this story, Colum McCann completely steps aside to make way for Diane Foley. He first becomes the silent observer of this hearing between her and one of the assassins of her son, Alexanda Kotey, tried in 2021 in Virginia – and which he attended when no member of the Foley family wanted to accompany the mother.

The writer inserts himself into the thoughts of this woman who amazed him with her courage, describing her dilemmas and her heartbreaks, while she wondered if she would regret having gone to this meeting, if she should watch the young man in the eyes or if she would be able not to cry in front of him.

The decision, in the end, was self-imposed. “I knew Jim would have met him and wanted to hear his story,” says Diane Foley, reached at her home in New Hampshire. “And it was therapeutic,” she adds. Because he felt remorse. It was difficult, but I’m grateful I was able to do it. »


Diane Foley

She admits that she felt more angry at her government, which did nothing to free the hostages including her son, than at Alexanda Kotey, who in her opinion was a victim of the failings he suffered during his childhood and jihadists who brainwashed him.

Her fight for the release of her son occupies the second part of the book, where Diane Foley expresses through the pen of Colum McCann her feeling of helplessness while being particularly critical of the inaction of the American government.

She also looks back on James’ life and his deep regret at not having done more to prevent him from leaving for Syria, where he was captured. Then we learn how she ended up creating the foundation that bears her name and which today campaigns to change the policies surrounding the release of American hostages, in addition to providing training to raise awareness among young journalists of the dangers in war zones.

I feel this is the legacy of Jim and those who were detained with him.

Diane Foley

Not in the United States

The height of irony, American Mother has still not been published in the United States, where it is due to appear in the coming days; it was released first in France, in January, then at the end of February in the United Kingdom. “I have no idea how it will be received,” says Diane Foley, while hoping that the subject remains a non-partisan issue. “The last thing we need is another issue that divides us. »

According to Colum McCann, on the other hand, “the world needed to hear this story”. “It’s a myth for our times. Diane Foley has this extraordinary presence, and she says, “Listen to me, because I’m going to have this deeply political commitment that is literally going to change the world and the way we perceive hostage taking.” And it was important to me, as a writer, to help give voice to that. »

American Mother

American Mother


208 pages

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