News of a Kidnapping
By Gabriel Garcia Marquez
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
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,
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