Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #199: Hostage by Guy Delisle

Critics and reviewers love artists whose work falls into distinct "periods" -- it makes our job that much easier, and who wants to work hard on purpose?

I like Guy Delisle's work for other reasons, of course, but he's got a great career for a lazy reviewer to write about, too. First a couple of quick books basically about sex and gender; then the "I lived in this strange place" period, from Pyongyang to Jerusalem; then the three "Neglectful Parenting" books.

I can't say what the shape of his next period will be -- it takes at least two points to define a line -- but Hostage clearly starts a new period of one kind or another. It somewhat connects back to the travelogue cluster, being set in a foreign country and having a Médecins Sans Frontières connection, but here Delisle is telling someone else's story rather than recounting his own experiences.

Christophe Andre had been working for Médecins Sans Frontières for three months in the small town of Nazran (in Ingushetia, the Russian republic just to the west of Chechnya) in 1997, running finances and administration. He was the only one sleeping in the mission that night when a group burst in, yelling "police," in the early-morning hours. He assumed at first that they were there to steal the payroll, but he quickly realized they were there for him: he was kidnapped and dragged away.

About a day later, he was handcuffed to a radiator, shirtless and barefoot, in a dingy room somewhere in Chechnya. And he stayed there much longer than he expected.

I won't tell you how long Christophe was a hostage, or how that ended -- you should read the book to find out -- but I will tell you that the very first page shows Christophe telling his story to Delisle. So we all know, from the beginning, that he did get free, and that there's a happy ending to his story.

That's good to keep in mind, since it's not a happy story: Christophe was alone, confined, in various dingy uncomfortable Chechen rooms until he finally got out of there, and Delisle makes all of those tedious, frightened, anxious moments real, using a day-by-day structure that follows Christophe's attempts to stay sane and keep track of how long he's been captive.

Hostage has no larger political points to make; no agenda. We don't know, in the end, what the aims of Christophe's kidnappers was -- they ask for a big ransom, but we never know if they grabbed him for pure greed or to fund some militia or army.

What we have, instead, is Christophe's day-to-day experience: tied down, controlled, in someone else's power, in an unknown place in a country where he doesn't speak the language, forever thinking about fighting back or escaping but wondering if he would have any chance if he tried.

It's a tough book to experience, but worth it. Delisle has expanded beyond his own personal life to show us something larger, for the first time, and done it brilliantly.

No comments:

Post a Comment