Review of Six Minutes To Freedom by Kurt Muse and John Gilstrap
Rating **** 1/2
No book can succeed if no one knows about it. I happened to be channel surfing one day when I stopped to watch Book TV. They were reporting from the floor of last year's Book Expo. One of the people they caught for an impromptu interview was Kurt Muse, the co-author and subject of Six Minutes To Freedom. The reporter asked Kurt the one question that every author receives, "So what's your book about? In the span of maybe two minutes Kurt Muse sold me on his book.
The story that Kurt has to tell begins with a clandestine attempt to interfere with radio broadcasts controlled by the corrupt government of Manuel Noriega in the late 1980s. Kurt, and a few co-conspirators, devised a way in which they could hijack the broadcast signal of the official Panamanian radio station and broadcast their own anti-Noriega message. This obviously didn't go over very well with Noriega and Kurt was eventually arrested in detained.
The book is wriiten in third person and alternates between what was happening with Kurt and what was happening with Kurt's family as they became separated during Kurt's initial arrest and detention. The story has many compelling components: the clandestine radio operation, Kurt's arrest and detention, the confusion and escape of Kurt's family from Panama, Kurt's time in a Panamanian prison, working with the CIA, and Kurt's eventual rescue by the military in the very nascent stages of the U.S. invasion of Panama.
The book is part memoir and part narrative nonfiction. The opening chapters detailing the confusion and chaos surrounding Kurt's initial arrest immediately draw the reader into the story. Kurt's wife, Annie, was in the U.S. at the time. So when Kurt was detained at the airport and eventually driven back to his house, his two children Kimberly and Eric were left to deal with the situation on their own. Kimberly, who was just twelve-years-old at the time, had to take charge and make some very important decisions that would affect not only her safety but the safety of her younger brother Eric.
The juxtaposition of the two stories works very well. For the most part, Kurt and his co-writer John Gilstrap, limit the story to only what Kurt or his family could know or experience. Thus you experience the story as they did with all of the confusion and uncertainty. The downside to this approach is that the rescue of Kurt at the Modelo prison loses some of the drama. Since we only see and experience what Kurt is going through, it's like watching the rescue from a small window with little visibility. The whole rescue attempt is maybe one twentieth of the book. Yet the rescue and subsequent invasion of Panama could probably have received its own book length treatment.
This is a good story told well.