I’ve been reading A House in the Sky: A Memoir of a Kidnapping That Changed Everything for more in depth research on being a hostage. In many ways this is one of the best books written (ghostwritten) that I’ve read on the subject so far, because Amanda Lindhout goes in more deeply to the felt experience of being kept prisoner. I don’t know if this difference is something to do with gender – the other books I’ve read so far are written by men, but I have more idea now about the parts that she found truly degrading: the dirt, the hunger, the chain pressing into her ankles, having to ask permission to go to the toilet, the lack of privacy. Her hostage experience starts off in a situation where she has a dialogue with her captors, where she still has some power, where there are boundaries, but by the end of her time in captivity it seems like she has become a thing to them, an object. I’ve written about this before in the context of doctors and patients: I think at some point during a doctors training they have to make the leap where they can regard the patient as ‘other’ in order to protect their own psyche. That’s where you end up with damaging beliefs for the health professional, like ‘doctors don’t get sick’. (And a better, more experienced doctor can cross the divide in both ways, empathising with the patient when needed, treating them as an object when slicing into them, perhaps.) And I can see how this objectification (?) can be necessary for a hostage taker in order to mete out the brutal treatment that Amanda Lindhout received. The challenge as a writer is in capturing the humanity and personhood of the person who is doing terrible things. The second draft of my book is going to have to go deeper, darker into Adam’s experience: at the same time I have to make his captors more human, more multifaceted.
Other things that came out of reading the House in the Sky were details of re-entry into normal life. Amanda’s teeth were damaged, she experienced stomach cramps when trying to eat after months with little food. She describes the feeling of the soft bed, her first night in a hotel after months on a mattress on the floor. And she touches on uncovering just what had been done to free her. I also looked at some videos from Nigel Brennan, her fellow captive, where he talks about what his family had to do to get him back. It is interesting that some parts of what was happening to them in captivity did get back to their families, small details that the families had no way of verifying at the time.
Reading other people’s written experiences is good, but I do wonder whether I should also be out interviewing people. I’d have no qualms doing this for non fiction, but I feel more hesitant about doing it for fiction and I’m not sure why. Part of it might be the long, indefinite process. I have no contract for this book, so no publication date, and I have no intention of being tied to any sort of deadline before I’m a lot further into the process! I also have qualms about seeking out people who have been through trauma, so it was interesting to read this account, where the author Holly Muller speaks about her experience of interviewing Austrians about their experiences during WW2. She suggests that people were keen to talk to her, and I agree that people can find speaking about trauma therapeutic.
This is a tricky one. I can see that you want to continue doing your research (and do it thoroughly) but I (personally) would find it hard to ask people to talk through their traumatic experiences with me. So that’s probably why I don’t tend to write about stuff that is too dark! I wish you all the best with it though.
Thank you Maria. I always deal with traumatic things during writing – I guess it is something that I find helpful for processing the difficult things in life.
That sounds like an interesting book. I’d never thought too much about what happens to hostages when they’re released – life must seem strange to them for a considerable time. Thank you for giving me something to think about.
Thanks for stoping to read and comment Jo
The novel you’re writing sounds fascinating, as does the book you’ve just read. That said, I do struggle with memoirs about experiences such as this, as it’s horrible to think the dark stuff is really real. I’m sure your book will be all the more realistic and compelling for this research. Making the kidnappers into ‘real people’ rather than just manifestations of evil will also give the book more depth. Good luck with it all and Thanks for sharing with #whatImWriting
A house in the sky was a tough road for sure … I hadn’t realised how dark it would get but I think that was helpful illumination for what I need to do. Thanks for reading and commenting.
This is fascinating and sounds like a harrowing read. I’ve been listening to Serial Season 2 and have been compelled but also upset by Bowe Bergdahl’s account of his 5 years being held by the Taliban. There comes a point when that level of suffering is beyond my comprehension. You’re brave to take on a subject like this. Good luck.
I’ll look that up Rebecca … Sounds like it might be relevant. Thanks for pointing it out.
The books both sound like they are going to be emotionally tough – both reading and writing. You’re brae to be taking on both challenges!
Some people will openly talk about traumatic experiences, but for others, the triggers are still too raw to talk about and sometimes, triggers are seemingly unrelated to the experience which makes it complex to research. Perhaps interviewing people who are familiar with the way trauma can change a person (ie psychiatrists or counsellors?) might help?
Thanks for the suggestion Chrissie! I’ll continue to muse on the best ways to approach it.
Sounds like a really interesting book – and so fascinating to get a more emotional insight into this terrifying experience. Some of what you wrote made me think of the current BBC drama ‘Thirteen’, about a young woman who escapes after 13 years in captivity. It’s fiction, obviously, but has some really interesting perspectives on the psychological impact of an experience like this – possibly worth checking out if you haven’t already! xx
Thanks Sophie. I’ll check that out