Review of Out of Captivity by Marc Gonsalves, Keith Stansell, Tom Howes, and Gary Brozek
When I first heard about the dramatic rescue of some fifteen Colombian hostages last year, I knew that a book was soon to follow. This is that book. This books tells the story of the three American hostages who were held captive for nearly six years in the jungles of Columbia. Since this is their story there is very little behind the scenes material concerning the rescue. The reader experiences the rescue as they did, with some added information that was learned after the fact. This book is more about their experiences as hostages just trying to survive.
The book uses a unique structure where each of the three men tells the story from their individual perspective. The story advances by switching narrators. When one of the narrators ends a scene, the next narrator takes over from that point and everything moves forward.
The three main narrators were part of a five man crew who were involved in the surveillance of the cocaine crop. When their single engine plane develops engine trouble they end up crash landing in a small clearing in the jungle. They all survive but two of the men – the captain and a Colombian military officer – are executed. The three remaining survivors are taken hostage by the FARC, an insurgency group with unclear motives.
I've heard numerous news reports about the plight of some of the FARC hostages such as Ingrid Betancourt who was a candidate for the president of Columbia in 2002. There would be a brief video showing her poor condition and a few minutes later another story would take its place. Ingrid and the other hostages would linger in my conscious for a day or two and then I would soon forget about them and get on with my life. Yet day after day and year after year the hostages remained as captives in the jungles of Columbia.
This book describes in detail what their day to day existence was like. They were very much like prisoners of war, except they were constantly on the move from one camp to the next. The three men gave each camp a unique name such as exercise camp, chess camp, and fat camp. Some of the camps and the living quarters were better than others. Besides the stress of captivity, their poor diets, and deplorable sanitary conditions, they were constantly battling illnesses and numerous insect related maladies.
The FARC guards are mostly uneducated men and women in their teens and early twenties. Some are friendlier than others. These same men and women are no different than the suicide bombers in the middle east or the child soldiers in Africa. They are poor, uneducated, and lack opportunity. Take these same killers out of that environment and give them an education, a job, and something to hope for and most of them would lead productive lives. Instead they and their hostages wither away in the jungles of Columbia. Some of them end up committing suicide.
The inner relationships of the three American hostages, their families back home, the guards, and hostages from other camps makes for compelling reading. I highly recommend this book. When they eventually release a book describing how they pulled off the rescue, I'll be first in line.