Sunday, November 17, 2013

Book review: "Buried Alive: The True Story of Kidnapping, Captivity, and a Dramatic Rescue"

Have you ever wanted to be kidnapped and held hostage? No?

Well, have you ever wondered what it feels like to be held captive? What would go through your mind, how you would survive? If so, "Buried Alive" is the book to read.

In "Buried Alive," Roy Hallums (along with co-author Audrey Hudson) describes his 311-day ordeal being held hostage in Iraq in 2004-2005.

Hallums, an American, was a contractor working for a food supplier when he was taken hostage. After being moved among several "safe houses" early in the ordeal, Hallums was eventually imprisoned in a cramped concrete-walled space underneath the floor of a house.

Because Hallums was forced to wear a hood over his eyes for virtually his entire captivity, and was kept in a dark hole besides, he saw very little. So, instead, he tells us what he feels, hears and smells. He describes sand fleas biting his skin, handcuffs cutting into his wrists, footsteps on the floor above, the loud music his captors played and the feel of being crammed into the trunk of a car. He keeps track of the days by noting the timing of prayers by his captors, or listening for the daily overflights of military helicopters.

When the captors put an air conditioning unit in the stifling subfloor space, Hallums describes how his prison suddenly becomes "sheer heaven" until the unit fails just a few minutes later.

We feel as if we're experiencing Hallums' captivity with him. It's not a pleasant experience, of course, but it offers us a glimpse into a strange world. Kidnapping was a big business in Iraq Hallums had been kidnapped not for political reasons, but for ransom. He doesn't know this at first, of course, and understandably feared that each day might be his last.

Hallums and Hudson helpfully include chapters describing what was happening with his family during his captivity, and the military and government efforts to find and rescue him.

One thing I liked in this book is that they put photos at the appropriate place in the narrative. Too many books just plop a batch of photos in the middle of the book, and some of them inevitably give away the ending.

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