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Hostage the incredible true story of the…
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Hostage the incredible true story of the kidnapping of three American…

by Nancy Mankins

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Panama.

I'll say at the outset that what the author went through was terrible and I have great sympathy for her and the other people involved. Nancy Mankins has an important and dynamic story to tell about the kidnapping of three missionaries, including her husband, by Colombian guerrillas (probably FARC) who crossed into Panama and took the men captive. That said, the book is very poorly written in a number of ways, and the content at times so offensive as to inspire incredulity. Someone should have given Mankins better writing assistance.

First, the shape of the story. Despite the compelling subject matter, the story drags considerably. It was a narrative error to intersperse the events of the kidnapping with the chronicle of daily life in the years leading up to the kidnapping--not much is known about what happened to the men after they were taken, and the climactic telling of the event occurs as the first chapter. This organizational strategy tells a story that sags and quits, disappointing the reader.

Second, style. Mankins flattens the emotion inherent in the story even further through wooden writing and repetitive clichéd descriptions. For example, multiple children are described over and over as "precious." The dialogue rarely rings true, and Mankins relies on telling rather than showing. If this were a straightforward narration of events, this wouldn't be so intrusive, but the artificial and superficial nature of the language highlights the emotional disengagement. In addition, Mankins spends whole paragraphs describing the steps by which a character engages in some trivial activity, such as preparing a meal. This degree of unnecessary and concrete detail interrupts and slows the narrative further.

Third, dramatic impact and identification. Because of these technical factors, I don't care about or empathize with Mankins's characters. This disjunction is troubling. The narrative asserts interiority, but I never believe it. Mankins will say she is scared or happy, but does not manage to convey the emotion to the reader. I longed for a more sophisticated and heartfelt account of Mankins's engagement with the community, her fears and hopes, and her faith. However, my overall impression is of emotional guardedness, not expressiveness. This may be reasonable given what Mankins went through, but again, a straightforward and factual account would be a more forgiving vehicle for this level of affect. This rendering, however, is like watching Leave it to Beaver through a veil of static--it's hard to follow, hard to care, and the characters seem to be posturing rather than feeling emotion.

Fourth, the faith and creed espoused by Mankins is an extreme, evangelical, and angry version of Christianity. It's hard for me to believe that no one participating in these events was trustworthy or helpful except for Christians, but this is what Mankins repeatedly asserts by identifying who is Christian and who is not coupled with their actions (or her fear about their intentions). Mankins's church is of the "faith, not works" variety adequately illustrated by the Left Behind series. Translation: If you don't believe as we do, you will burn in hell no matter what good you have done in the world. The Panamanian indigenes are repeatedly described in terms of their spiritual darkness, harsh expressions, and other dubious characteristics. A glaring example of this world view may be found in two pregnancies Mankins describes. In the first, Mankins is called when a local woman is having a difficult labor. Mankins dithers about, decides that she can't be helpful, and goes home to pray. The reader doesn't get much insight into her prayers, however, but instead is subjected to Mankins's assertions of her fear and discomfort with the situation. She is called back repeatedly, and rather than describe for the reader her uncertainty, or her prayers, or her concern for the people involved, she instead becomes fixated on an indigenous medication someone gives the pregnant woman. It becomes clear that Mankins conflates local medicine with black magic. Apparently she is too busy being afraid and critical to be helpful. When she decides that the evil elixir is not working, her criticism deepens. Yet later in the book, one of the missionaries is having a difficult pregnancy and goes into labor prematurely. She is in a hospital and is given medicine that Mankins does not think is working. Does Mankins attribute this to Satan or evil practices? She does not, nor does she seem to be aware that these parallel stories illuminate her prejudices. This is a xenophobic narrative indeed, which deeply troubles me. I see little love for, but a great deal of suspicion of, those unlike oneself, a disturbing attitude for missionaries living in a community for many years.

Notes on the cover: 1) The circling of the t seen as a cross is beside the point. There's no evidence in the books. that people were kidnapped because they were Christians or missionaries. 2) No one was tied to a chair. ( )
  OshoOsho | Mar 30, 2013 |
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