Hostage Tell-All Books Fly Off Shelves In Colombia Colombians are enthralled with a new tell-all account by three Americans held hostage by rebels in the country's jungle for five years. They write about their lives and have unkind words for Ingrid Betancourt, the best-known former hostage of all.
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Hostage Tell-All Books Fly Off Shelves In Colombia

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Hostage Tell-All Books Fly Off Shelves In Colombia

Hostage Tell-All Books Fly Off Shelves In Colombia

Hostage Tell-All Books Fly Off Shelves In Colombia

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/101541669/101662252" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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This photo released in 2007 shows Ingrid Betancourt, a former Colombian presidential candidate being held hostage by FARC rebels since 2002, in an unknown location. She was rescued along with Stansell, Gonsalves and Howes. In Out of Captivity, Stansell has harsh words for Betancourt. AP/Colombia's Presidency hide caption

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AP/Colombia's Presidency

This photo released in 2007 shows Ingrid Betancourt, a former Colombian presidential candidate being held hostage by FARC rebels since 2002, in an unknown location. She was rescued along with Stansell, Gonsalves and Howes. In Out of Captivity, Stansell has harsh words for Betancourt.

AP/Colombia's Presidency

Colombia's Book Industry

Marianna Ponsford, editor of Arcadia, a leading arts and culture magazine in Bogota, Colombia, talks to Juan Forero about the country's book market and the wave of recently published books by former hostages.

On The Popularity Of Hostage Memoirs And The Power Of The Mass Media

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On The Small Minority Of Readers In Colombia And How That Is Improving

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On Why Authors Don't Express Their Emotions And Colombia's Tradition Of Silence

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Colombians are enthralled with a new book — a tell-all account by three Americans held hostage for five years.

In Out of Captivity, the men write about hardships and perseverance in Colombia's jungles. They also recount rivalries with other captives — and have some unkind words for the best-known former hostage of all, Colombian politician and author Ingrid Betancourt.

Theirs is not the only one, though. A slew of similar books have come out in Colombia, many of them best-sellers.

Taking Notes In the Jungle

Thomas Howes was a Pentagon contractor flying a surveillance plane over southern Colombia when he and his crew went down in 2003.

Marxist guerrillas who have been fighting the Colombian government for decades quickly descended on the plane. They found Howes bleeding from a head wound.

"By the time you come to, you've got AK-47s on you, and you're a prisoner, and you start a 24-day march — the idea comes into your head that if you survive, that's a pretty good book start, right there," Howes says.

So deep in the jungle, Howes took notes, recording the abuse at the hands of sadistic guards, the forced marches, the bombardments by Colombia's air force. Two other Americans captured with him, Marc Gonsalves and Keith Stansell, did so as well.

They wrote their book after Colombian commandos freed them in a daring raid last year. Out of Captivity has been published in the United States and also will be sold in Colombia, once translated into Spanish.

Revealing Betancourt's Bad Side

The book is much more than a survival tale; it also provides intimate details about life in rebel camps, such as petty jealousies between hostages and romances between prisoners. And it paints a not-so-rosy picture of Betancourt, who was considered the most valuable hostage.

Stansell describes her as self-absorbed, even spiteful. He says she hoarded books and food and determined bathing schedules.

"Whether they like it or not, I apologize. I don't want to offend anybody, but I did not tell any lies," Stansell says.

Betancourt, who is in Paris writing her own book, declined to be interviewed.

Criticism Of Intimate Details

Though in English, the tell-all nature of the Americans' book has found its way to Colombia — and rubbed some people the wrong way. Newspaper columnists and some of the more discreet of the former hostages say what happened in the jungle should stay in the jungle.

Marianne Ponsford, is a former book editor who runs Arcadia, a culture magazine. She says Colombians avoid airing intimacies in public.

"It is considered bad taste to say bad things to people's faces. So when you don't have a tradition of free speech, it is difficult to know how to say, to know what can be said. This is self, automatic censorship," she says.

Hostage Books Hot

In the past two years, nearly a dozen books by or about hostages have been released in Colombia. The survival tales have readers spellbound, and many of the books are flying off the shelves.

Luis Eladio Perez was a former senator until his kidnapping. His book, Held Hostage Seven Years by the FARC, has sold 27,000 copies in Colombia and more than 30,000 elsewhere.

Perez says people want to know about the suffering and how hostages overcame hardships. But he goes further, reflecting on his shortcomings as a politician before his abduction

The interest in kidnapping is not new in Colombia — abductions, by the thousands, have been taking place for years. The government says hundreds are held by kidnappers.

But in this decade, the guerrillas began to seek out high-profile captives to use as bargaining chips in talks with Colombia's government. Twenty-seven have been freed or rescued in the last year.

Worst Nightmare, Personal Revelations

John Otis has been a journalist in Colombia for 12 years and is the author of a book on kidnapping to be published later this year.

"I think they're of great interest, especially to Colombians, because getting kidnapped is the worst nightmare for most people living down here," Otis says. "You're taken away from your family. You're held in horrible conditions out in the jungle. It just seems like the worst of all possible worlds."

Still, some of the new books include some personal revelations. Fernando Araujo, for instance, writes about finding his wife with another man after he escaped to freedom. And Lucy Artunduaga, who was not a hostage, recounts how her husband fell in love with another captive during his imprisonment in the jungle.

Artunduaga said writing the book gave her inner peace — and cleared her conscience. She said what's written is now written.

She adds that she dedicated the book to her ex-husband.