A Dangerous Craft  | American Journalism Review
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From AJR,   October 1997

A Dangerous Craft   

News of a Kidnapping
By Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Knopf

Book review by Linda Fibich
Linda Fibich is a former Washington bureau chief of Newhouse News Service and a former assistant managing editor of Minneapolis' Star Tribune.      


News of a Kidnapping
By Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Knopf
291 pages; $25

It February 1991, while on a two-week trip to Haiti, I exchanged pleasantries with a social worker in a remote village of the Western hemi- sphere's most impoverished nation. When I admired the fortitude that I was sure her job required, she shrugged at my praise and asked what I did for a living.

"I'm a journalist," I told her.

"I wanted to be a journalist," the young woman replied. "But it is too dangerous to be a journalist here."

Her words reminded me not for the first time, but more profoundly that we who edit and report in the U.S. take our safety for granted.

I didn't know then that on that very morning, 10 men and women, all journalists save one, were being held hostage by Medellin drug boss Pablo Escobar in another Caribbean nation. That I learned of their ordeal only this year, with the publication of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's "News of a Kidnapping," again marked my American insularity.

The Colombian abductions began in August 1990, with the seizure of prominent TV journalist and magazine editor Diana Turbay, four members of her news team and a German writer. Within weeks, MarinaMontoya, sister of Colombia's ambassador to Canada, the sole non-journalist among the group, was dragged away at gunpoint from the restaurant she owned. Four hours later, Francisco Santos, editor in chief at Bogota's El Tiempo, was kidnapped.

The crimes carefully orchestrated, with captives clearly chosen because they were members of the press were interpreted as an effort by Escobar to gain the government's assurance that he and other narcotics traffickers would not be extradited to the United States were they to surrender.

"News of a Kidnapping" opens with the taking of the final two victims:

"She looked over her shoulder before getting into the car to be sure no one was following her," Garcia Marquez writes of Maruja Pachon de Villamizar, director of FOCINE, Colombia's state-run enterprise for the promotion of the film industry. Pachon and her colleague and sister-in-law Beatriz Villamizar de Guerrero became numbers 9 and 10. "It was 7:05 in the evening in Bogota. It had been dark for an hour..."

What follows is an account as fantastic as any of the magic realism that won Garcia Marquez the Nobel Prize for Literature. It twists through some nine months of what its author calls the "biblical holocaust that has been consuming Colombia for 20 years," chilling and tragicomic in its descriptions of players and events.

Near the end, what is foretold in an author's introduction has transpired. Montoya and Turbay are dead at the hands of the cartel. All but Pachon and Santos are free. But while we know that their release is imminent, Garcia Marquez sustains suspense and an astonishing level of psychological detail.

Pachon, in the hour of her liberation on a Monday in May 1991, coolly seeks to embarrass a low-ranking captor in front of his boss. The boss, under more pressure than she, pretends not to notice. Instead, he searches his pockets for a souvenir.

He takes out a 9mm shell. "Here," he says, handing it to her. "The bullet we didn't shoot you with."

"News of a Kidnapping" is dedicated to its protagonists.

"Their pain, their patience and their rage gave me the courage to persist in this autumnal task, the saddest and most difficult of my life," Garcia Marquez writes. "My only frustration is knowing that none of them will find on paper more than a faded reflection of the horror they endured in their real lives."

He and they should be assured that the reflection is vivid in the imaginations of the journalists among his readers.

There are places, some not far away, where to carry a press card is to be a target. But where personal security can be assumed, Garcia Marquez's book should give meaningful pause to newsmen and women.

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