When I chose this book, I did not know that Pvt. Bow Bergdahl would be traded for five terrorists and brought back home to the United States. However, because of that release, after approximately five years, the book is far more pertinent than I thought it would be, and it enlightened me regarding the conditions under which a captive is forced to live and the supreme effort that must be made in order to survive, both mentally and physically.
Although Private Bergdahl has been accused by his fellow soldiers of knowingly and willingly deserting his post, his experiences during his period of incarceration must have been similar. The language barrier, deprivation and abuse along with the terror he must have felt and the abject loneliness he had to endure, had to bring him to the brink of insanity, and if not that, the edge of hopelessness.
Gonsalves, Howes and Stansell were taken captive under totally different circumstances. They went “unwillingly into the dark night”. Somewhere over the jungles of Colombia, their small plane developed engine trouble and crash landed in the best clearing they could find. They were on a mission to stop the flow of drugs into the United States. All the men on board the plane were working for private companies, but for one who was part of the Colombian military. Of the six originally on the plane, only three made it out of the jungle after almost 5 ½ years.
When the men climbed out of their plane, damaged beyond repair, they discovered they had landed in the middle of a war zone and bullets rained down around them. The FARC - The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, a left-wing rebel group, captured them and marched them through the jungle terrain for almost a month, rarely paying any attention to their need for food or drink, sleep or rest, or their inability to understand their language.
Over the five+ years of their captivity, they were moved from placed to place, housed in different prison camps, chained, starved, exhausted, kept in solitary, blindfolded, terrorized and deprived of contact with their loved ones. In order to survive, the three of them devised a plan to always keep hope in their hearts, to stick together and do whatever was needed to live through their ordeal. They created a community for themselves, wherever they were taken. They had no idea their imprisonment would go on for years. They had hoped to be rescued within weeks of their capture. They knew that they were being held for some kind of ransom since that was the practice of this rebel group. They also knew they randomly and wantonly committed murder, as well. They often went from a state of hopefulness to a state of utter despair, but they roused and inspired each other to keep on going until they were free and back on US soil. They wanted to live to tell their tale to the world and to be reunited with their friends and family.
The very young soldiers who were responsible for their detention and their care seemed like teenagers; they were barely able to care for themselves. They were unsure of how to treat their hostages and as they traveled from place to place, situation to situation, they experimented with various methods. As a result, the men went from highs to lows, as each day passed, as they were subjected to more and more deprivation, more and more marching, more and more isolation, more and more broken promises and threats. They were hungry, thirsty, filthy, and too tired to keep on moving, although they were forced to continue. They drew on stores of energy they didn’t know they had, and they encouraged each other and helped each other when they succumbed to illness or weakness. The years they lost as prisoners and the relationships they had at home, went on, continued without them, and their lives were profoundly impacted, permanently, by their period of imprisonment. The time that was stolen could not be returned.
The book was very detailed but it seemed too clinical. It felt like a sanitized version of their days in FARC custody. Although I walked through the jungle with them, saw their prison camps and felt some of their fear, I did not feel emotionally attached to them or any of the characters they described, except for one, and he was a rebel who realized the errors of his ways, maintained his own humanity, and escaped in the only way he could. Also, I think it would have been better if there were three readers for this audio book, one for each of the survivors, Mark, Keith and Tom, so that the person speaking in each chapter relating his past, present and hopes for the future would have been easier to identify.