Stealing Ali: A Book Review

May 4, 2012 by  

Imagine if you will that you are newly married — to a wonderful woman who had two daughters from previous marriages. Imagine that your new spouse’s ex-husband, of Lebanese descent, kidnapped the younger of the two daughters and took her back to his ancestral home in Lebanon, leaving her with his family while he went on to work elsewhere in the Middle East. Imagine that your new wife traveled to Lebanon to find and retrieve the kidnapped daughter. Imagine that a few months later, he did it again. this time, taking her to Bahrain, a small island in the Persian Gulf!

Stealing Ali, a novel by William and Daisy Serle, is a fictionalized account of a true story. The names were changed to protect the privacy of many of the principal characters.

The story details how the newlyweds (renamed Lee and Maggie in the book), both previously married, met when working for the same employer in Miami, and after some initial friction, fell madly in love and married in 1975. Within a month of the wedding, the younger daughter, six-year-old Allison (nicknamed Ali) was kidnapped by her father and taken to Lebanon, with the ex-husband, Joe, rationalizing that this would force Maggie to divorce Lee and return to him. Maggie flew to Beirut and traveled to the home of Joe’s mother and found Ali there. After some further familial drama, Maggie and Ali returned home to Miami. Another kidnapping attempt was made a short time later, with Maggie literally grabbing and pulling Ali from the window of Joe’s moving car.

After several months of exemplary behavior, Joe received permission to take Ali to Walt Disney World for a few days. When they didn’t return at the agreed-upon time, panic ensued, and after a series of phone calls and some pretty decent detective work, they determined that Joe had taken Ali to Bahrain, a small island located in the Persian Gulf. After mortgaging their future, Lee and Maggie flew to Bahrain to try to retrieve their daughter.

The next part describes the hellish experience they had finding and taking Ali back and then dealing with the local authorities, the uncaring US Embassy staff, and the local legal system, while at the same time meeting and often working with numerous wonderful people who offered their homes, cars, and friendship while Lee and Maggie waded their way through the legal morass of the Bahrain court system. Things got further complicated when the ex-husband, Joe, in a cynical effort to garner favor in the courts, converted from his Catholic faith to Islam, which effectively moved the proceedings from the civil to the religious court where Maggie was at an extreme disadvantage, being a woman. The religious court, run by Islamic clerics, as expected, sided with Joe, the newly converted Muslim. Not wanting to give the whole story away, suffice it to say that Lee, Maggie, and Ali found a dangerous and stealthy way out of the country, risking capture and being returned to Bahrain for prosecution. Ultimately, they made their way back to the USA. It took them many years to pay back the tremendous debt they incurred on these two adventures.

I can tell you that most of the events described in this fictionalized tale did indeed happen. I can say this because William Serle is my stepbrother, and my entire family followed this tale from start to finish. My parents, my younger brother, “Ali’s” older sister “Jackie,” and I drove convoy-style, with CB radios blaring, from South Florida to suburban Washington D.C. to meet the Serles when they arrived at Dulles International Airport.

Due to some very adult content, parents may want to think twice about letting children under 17 read this book. All in all, Stealing Ali is a chilling thriller that demonstrated a mother’s fierce love and her willingness to do whatever was needed to recover her kidnapped daughter.

“Ali” grew up to be a fine young woman. She married, and had three children, now all in their teens. William and Daisy are enjoying their retirement in Central Florida, frequently traveling up and down the east coast to visit family and friends.

William had been talking about publishing this story for years. He took it to a number of New York publishers and was rejected by all of them. Over the next 20 years, he expanded the story into a full novel, got some editing help, and finally decided to self-publish. Using modern publishing technology, the books are printed on-demand, so they are not warehoused, but instead are printed as needed–a technology I will be exploring for the upcoming Grinnell genealogy.

The book is available from as a trade paperback for $15.99, a Kindle download for $9.99, or directly from the publisher, Createspace. You can also read samples of the book on the Stealing Ali website. You can also listen to an interview of William Serle, talking about Stealing Ali, on the podcast, number 355.