Signature names Hostage a summer read

“3 Rich Reads to Take Into Your Summer” / Signature Reads / Lorraine Berry / June 22, 2017

The third summer book that provides insight into our fears is the remarkable Hostage by Guy Delisle. At the beginning of this graphic biography/memoir, he says, “The events reported here occurred in 1997, when Christophe Andre was working for a humanitarian NGO in the Caucasus.” Andre dictated to Delisle the story of his kidnapping, and then he turned it into illustrated panels that turn out to be the best way to convey Andre’s ordeal.

One night, while sleeping at the headquarters of the NGO for whom he was working, Andre was kidnapped by men who took him into Chechnya. He spent almost the entire time that he was being held handcuffed to a radiator while sleeping on a mattress. He had no books, no one to talk to, no form of distraction during the time. The drawings convey the sparseness of the various rooms where he was held. Delisle only uses shades of gray and black and white as a means of getting readers to feel the monotony of being held captive.

Andre has an incredible memory of what happened to him during his months of captivity, and so, on the rare nights when his captors offer him something different – a cigarette, or the chance to wash himself – the reader feels the power of this break in routine. And because the captive spent all of that time in his head, we become enmeshed in his thought processes, so, for example, I found myself weighing for myself whether the rare opportunities when he could have escaped were worth taking that chance. Did I think it would be a good idea for him to try to run away? Or did it seem safer to wait for the negotiations that were taking place between his captors and the NGO to secure his release?

Toward the end of the book, when the solution to his captivity is at hand, I found myself frightened on Andre’s behalf. Even though it’s clear he survived his captivity because the book is proof of that, I had no idea whether he was injured in the last weeks before he was reunited with his family. The book is genuinely frightening in those moments.

But while Andre’s experience is relatively rare, that fear of being held captive, or of a loss of freedom, is a fairly common fear. The illustrations and the narrative are profound in their ability to evoke one’s own sense of autonomy. I felt the weight of the handcuff around my wrist, and could feel the slow burn of hunger that led to Andre’s loss of a significant amount of weight.

While there are plenty of summer reads out there, I’m glad that publishers are not holding off on offering to readers these kinds of choices. While we take vacations from work, our fears don’t take holidays. It’s good to read books that offer succor for those fears.

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