Tuesday, December 6, 2011

REVIEW: Days of Fear, by Daniele Mastrogiacomo

Days of Fear: A Firsthand Account of Captivity Under the New Taliban, by Daniele Mastrogiacomo. Published 2010 by Europa Editions. Nonfiction, Memoir. Translated from the Italian.

Sometimes I wonder if there aren't certain parts of the world that should just, you know, be avoided. This book is about what happened to three men who made it their mission to go to the places no one really should, to bring news and information to the rest of us. It is a testament to survival in the face of violence and hatred.

Italian newspaper reporter Daniele Mastrogiacomo was kidnapped by Taliban soldiers along with his driver and translator on March 5, 2007, while on the way to interview a Taliban leader. Days of Fear is his memoir of his harrowing fifteen days in captivity, recounting his day by day movements and the fates of his two companions in a flat, matter-of-fact style:
Everyone is awake when I open my eyes on the morning of our ninth day of imprisonment. I have kept track of the days: it is Tuesday, March 13. My wrists are still in chains, but the tiger balm has done me good and eased the pain. I leave the barn with Sayed [his driver] and Ajmal [his translator]. Our feet are chained, we walk with small steps, rocking side to side a little like ducks. Our captors are gathered around a large fire lit by the farmer. They talk loudly, yell excitedly, as joyful as ever.
His captors initially believe that the three are spies; they vow to execute them but then decide to negotiate a trade for Taliban prisoners held by the U.S. and the British.  Mastrogiacomo recounts in aching detail the moves, the long nights, the physical and psychological pain he endures along with Ajmal and Sayed. Mastrogiacomo is injured when he's captured; he has a gash on his head from the butt of a Taliban gun and this wound will cause him seemingly endless worry for several days as medical attention is virtually non-existent and he and his co-captives sleep in barns and caves.

With extensive experience in the region but little Pashto, Mastrogiacomo must rely on Ajmal for all communications between himself and his captors, but as their captivity wears on Ajmal wants less and less to talk or to encourage Mastrogiacomo to talk. Soon Mastrogiacomo understands that those in the outside world are aware of his situation and working for his freedom, but progress, and news, both so painfully slow, cannot come fast enough. His isolation will weigh ever more heavily as events take a tragic, horrifying turn.

When all is said and done, I was left breathless and with an overwhelming sense of the sheer futility of all these three men had to endure. Their captivity seemed to have accomplished exactly nothing; most of the personages involved were killed during or after the kidnapping, and even Mastrogiacomo's rescue was fraught with danger as he was nearly recaptured on his way back to Italy.  Days of Fear is a breathtaking, unforgettable book and anyone who appreciates a free press should read it today.

Days of Fear counts towards the Europa Challenge. Two more to go to Amante Level!

Rating: BUY

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.


bermudaonion said...

I'm with you on avoiding parts of the world. This book sounds harrowing!

Zibilee said...

This book does sound amazing, and also very scary. I haven't read anything like this before, but your review has me considering going out to get this one right away! An excellent and very enticing review on what must have been a very difficult book.

Jeanne said...

I worry about losing the good effect of the free press on democracy with the demise of print journalism. Yes, ironic for a blogger.

bookspersonally said...

Sounds like an incredible story. So easy to take our press for granted, and so easy to mentally put aside how dangerous some of these places can be for reporters. Great to learn of this book.

Kathleen said...

This does sound like an incredible story. I do wonder why people go into area where they know they will face certain danger.

Col (Col Reads) said...

I have great respect for journalists, and absolutely defend their right to go after a story, but I also wonder whether or not getting that story is always worth the cost in lives. It sounds like this book addresses that difficult question. Great review.

Aths said...

That just sounds harrowing! I agree it's safer to avoid certain places, but I think we also need a way to get news out of those places. There are so many things we come to know after the fact or get in lovely sugar coated wrappings. I wonder how journalists have the courage to go where no man really should - I respect them for that, but I wish they aren't targeted so much. I will be looking for this book.