Book Review by Ann Jonas, Tradebook Buyer - CSB/SJU Bookstores
this review was published in the St. Cloud Visitor
Even Silence Has an End: My Six Years of Captivity in the Columbian Jungle by Ingrid Betancourt; Penguin Press, Sept. 2010, 528pp
Ingrid Betancourt was born in Bogota, Columbia and raised in France. In 1991, disturbed by the widespread political corruption in Columbia, she returned to the country of her birth, determined to make a difference. She held various government positions in Columbia from 1991-2002, fighting for a number of major issues vital to the health of the Columbian people, the environment, and the economy of the country. In 2001, Betancourt decided she could make a bigger impact if she ran for president of Columbia in the 2002 election, campaigning to end the corruption and drug trafficking that were prevalent in the country. During her campaign, in February 2002, Betancourt was abducted by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (FARC), a brutal terrorist organization. The FARC's goal was to exchange Betancourt and other hostages for some of their comrades who had been arrested and were being held by the Columbian government. For the next six and a half years, Betancourt was held prisoner, deep in the Columbian jungle.
Even Silence Has an End is Betancourt's incredible story of her survival. She fought humiliation, abuse, starvation, and lack of medical care during her captivity. Several times Betancourt escaped from the FARC, but each time she was recaptured and then harshly punished. The prisoners battled stifling heat, venomous spiders, ants, and snakes, torrential rain, limited food, and utterly unsanitary bathroom facilities. They were shuffled from one location to another, traveling mostly on foot and also by boat during their captivity. Because she had been a presidential candidate, Betancourt was often singled out and treated more harshly by both her captors and her fellow prisoners.
Frequently chained at the neck, and often isolated from her companions, Betancourt was fearful that her dehumanizing treatment would turn her into a despicable human being: "When you are subject to extreme cruelty and violence, you are confronted with a choice: you can allow your inner beast to take control of you, or you can seek love and humility instead. In captivity, making that decision on a day to day basis was the only freedom I had left. I came to understand that this was what kept me alive." Betancourt often made a point of helping her fellow captives-- rather than simply looking out for herself-- to maintain a sense of humanity.
Betancourt was raised a Catholic; daily prayer, especially to the Virgin Mary, reading the Bible from cover to cover, and praying the rosary helped Betancourt make it through her days of imprisonment. She also studied a treasured dictionary, and learned to weave to help maintain her sanity. Her mother and two children, who were young teens, regularly sent her messages, broadcast on the radio.
The determination and courage displayed by Betancourt during her captivity, while battling physical exhaustion, illness, and despair are described in great detail in Even Silence Has an End. Her story, along with her dramatic rescue and subsequent reunion with her family, is a riveting narrative.