Fanatical rebels of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) of Central Asia snatch four young American wall climbers for a six-day ordeal through the wilds of remote Kyrgyzstan in the summer of 2000. The area, formerly part of the USSR, is bordered by Pakistan, Afghanistan, China and Iran.
There are only a few areas of the world that meet the geologic criteria of having Great Walls and Kyrgyzstan is one of them, along with the U.S.'s Yosemite National Park. These kids were great climbers, but their awareness of world affairs was zero to none. True, State Department advisories were vague, and the fact they were not warned or stopped by either their on-site travel agency or the military is unbelievable.
The quartet, three boys and one girl, had a terrifying experience being under fire, under constant threat of execution, seeing a soldier executed before their eyes, and had almost no food or water during the nightmare ordeal. They finally escaped by one of them shoving their guard over a cliff, presumably to his death.
I was struck again and again by the almost total helplessness of these young people, particularly Beth Rodden. She is a very nice, well brought up young lady, but seemed to revert to a sobbing childlike state of overwhelming terror. The boys were very protective, but unable to plan coherently and missed many opportunities to escape. Two of the boys were full of braggadocio and talk, but ultimately were incapable of action. The other was almost catatonic, but at least had a very real awareness of the danger and when it counted, acted. The terrorists did not physically harm them. They were ready to execute the hostages at any moment, but never assaulted or beat them.
Greg Child is uniquely qualified to tell this white-knuckle tale. He is an experienced mountaineer, familiar with Kyrgyzstan having climbed there in '95, and is the author of some well-received mountaineering books. I have read two of his books and enjoyed his easy going style, his expertise, and his factual integrity.
Their return prompted a media frenzy that quickly turned into a firestorm. First because Mr. Child obtained exclusive rights to the hostage's story causing much hostility from other members of the press and secondly, the guard who the hostages pushed off the cliff turned up very much alive and not much worse for wear. The guard's accounts of the escape sometimes did and sometimes did not agree with the hostages' account. There were cries of "hoax!" and bitterness over the large monetary advance Mr. Child and the hostages received. I believe the story and am not much troubled by the fact the hostages' assumption they had killed the guard. It was dark, they saw him cartwheel in space, and thought he had fallen a great distance. (He did not.) I once saw a convertible on a switchback mountain road sail over a guardrail and tumble into space. I was positive and would have sworn that all the occupants had to be dead from the fall. It turned out the worst injury was a broken arm and the other two only had scratches and bruises. And this was in broad daylight!
I agree with other reviewers that noted all the controversy about the kidnapping did not belong in the book proper. He badly needed endnotes and should have uses appendices to set forth conflicting views. Nevertheless, it is a riveting story and a great read. The best way to judge the veracity is to read the book and form your own opinion.