sometimes witty book reviews
When Colombian presidential candidate, Ingrid Betancourt, was kidnapped the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in 2002, no one could have known it would be more than six years before she was seen again. Even Silence Has An End: My Six Years of Captivity in the Colombian Jungle is her official memoir, released barely a year after her rescue by Colombian security forces in 2008.
On 23 February 2002, Betancourt was on the campaign trail. Being relatively young (thirty-two at the time) and a woman, she was a unusual candidate in a country stricken by poverty and fraught with corruption and terrorism. She was kidnapped by FARC forces while attempting to cross into the then demilitarised zone of the country. Negotiations for her release began immediately. Her name remained on the ballot paper of the 2002 elections despite her ordeal. Nothing was seen or heard of Betancourt until FARC released an video of her in captivity in August 2003. Negotiations of the next five years were sporadic and intense. She was rescued along with fourteen other captives on 2 July 2008. The memoirs cover the story of the intervening six years.
The account is harrowing to say the least. The living conditions violated human-rights conventions from day one. Her captures were brutal, their characters severe. Her numerous escape attempts are very difficult to read – you know she won’t make it out; her captors will be ruthless. Betancourt writes with a commanding, authorative and eerily calm voice. She is not prone to exaggeration and her descriptions lack hyperbole. This itself makes the text even more incredible. Her personal endurance, personal faith and kindness to others is inspiring – and attested to by her fellow captives. Most poignant are her descriptions of the FARC guards with whom she interacted. Far from dehumanising them in hindsight, she recounts there personality quirks, gestures of humanity, the things they liked to do. Particularly sweet is her story about several female guards teaching her how to make elaborate beaded items, later they baked a cake together.
It is hard to criticise such a personal account of such an extreme life experience. Taken purely as a piece of autobiographical writing, the descriptions of the jungle and the unfolding of various scenarios become rather repetitive. But then, the life of a political prisoner doesn’t lend itself to great variation on a day to day basis. In short, Even Silence has an End is an impressive work by a remarkable person.
Reading suggestion: Unlike Jasper Forde’s Shades of Grey, you should not read this while you have pneumonia.