CBR15Passport books from different countries
Hostage is the true story of Christophe Andre, a Frenchman working for Doctors Without Borders in Chechnya who was kidnapped and held for three months. Guy Delisle, a French illustrator and writer, interviewed Andre after his ordeal and turned the taped interviews into a gripping work of graphic biography.
In order to place things in context I had to read up a bit on the Chechen/Russian war of 1994-96. The events in this story take place after that conflict had ended, and an independent government had taken power in Chechnya. Chechnya was economically devastated by the fighting, and a way to make fast cash was kidnapping foreigners. While condemned by the head of government, it continued for a few years, during which time divisions arose between the Chechen National guard and Islamist militants. Tensions came to a head in 1998, and in 1999 war broke out again with Russia drawn into the fray once more.
In July 1997, Christophe Andre had been working three months for an NGO (Doctors Without Borders is never actually named in the story) in a town called Nazran in Chechnya. After a going away party for a colleague, he went back to his room to sleep when, in the middle of the night, a group of men broke into his room and forced him into a car. Andre thought the men were after the money in the safe for the NGO, to which Andre had the keys, but he soon realized that they were unaware of that. His clothes were taken and he was handcuffed to a radiator in a room in an unknown location. Hostage takes the reader through the day-to-day life of a hostage as well his mental state and means of coping. Initially Andre believed that he would be freed within days. He was careful throughout his captivity to keep track of the days and the date. It did not take long for him to realize that he could be held for much longer than he anticipated. When his captors took his photograph, he believed that he was most likely being held for ransom and worried that the NGO would have to bankrupt itself to save him, something he adamantly did not want them to do.
While Andre’s captors did not torture or physically abuse him, captivity took a physical toll nonetheless. He lost weight, rarely had a chance to bathe, and found himself becoming weaker. The mental/emotional toll was a matter of more concern to him. On a few occasions, he was taken out at night and believed he would be part of an exchange only to have his hopes dashed. There were also a couple of times when an opportunity to escape seemed to present itself, only for Andre to doubt whether he could follow through with it. Andre wondered whether anyone was trying to find him, and as a way to fend off hopelessness and keep himself mentally engaged, he found mental exercises to occupy his mind. Andre is a military history buff, and he spent time remembering Napoleonic campaigns and even American Civil War battles, such as Gettysburg. Eventually, his captors made contact with Andre’s NGO and Andre knew that people were actively trying to find him. The story of Andre’s liberation from captivity is pretty exciting.
It’s hard to imagine being able to survive a hostage situation as Christophe Andre did – alone in a room with boarded windows and no one to talk to; he could not understand his captors. I think many would succumb to despair and depression. His resilience and ingenuity in keeping himself alive and defiant is impressive.