La Petite Américaine's Reviews > Even Silence Has an End: My Six Years of Captivity in the Colombian Jungle

Even Silence Has an End by Ingrid Betancourt
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Dec 13, 13

bookshelves: auto-bios-etc, rants
Recommended for: The very careful and skeptical
Read from November 07 to 08, 2010

So, let's talk about this book.

First, a little background about the story: it is the memoir of Ingrid Betancourt, a Colombian senator who was running for president of that country when she was kidnapped by FARC guerrillas and held captive for 6 years. She lived through sheer hell, from infighting among her fellow hostages to swarms of biting jungle insects, marches during life-threatening illnesses through the never-ending Amazon, and sitting for months at a time with her neck chained to a tree. In a country where the usual m.o. of the guerrilla army is to storm the homes of politicians, kidnap and kill them, Betancourt, who knowingly wandered into FARC territory, is lucky to be alive.

Even Silence Has an End is one of the most beautiful books that you will ever read. Is it filled with poetry: "Freedom-such a precious jewel, one we were prepared to risk our lives for-would lose all its brilliance if it were to be worn in a life of regret," / "Our words echoed in the air, beneath a heavenly dome that wore the dust of diamonds sprinkled alongside the constellations of our thoughts." Betancourt reveals small glimpses of humanity that appeared in her jungle prison hell: the guerrillas dancing and singing with the prisoners, a hand grasped in the darkness at night in sheer terror, and the touching words impulsively spoken when another prisoner was on the brink of death. She will take you beyond the depths of despair to a place without hope, to times when she had given up on life, could no longer eat and could barely stand up. Betancourt is more than a gifted writer and her words will charm you, seduce you, and likely leave you holding her in great reverence.

And what about Ingrid Betancourt today? She's beautiful. She's charismatic. She's a brilliant, wealthy, multi-lingual woman with killer heels and lots of friends in high places. She is part of the European jet-set and has left two hot husbands in her wake. Let's not forget that she's also a strong woman and an incredible survivor. I want to believe her, I really do. But before we all get misty-eyed and enamored beyond the point of no return, let's have a look at reality.

Getting kidnapped was the best thing that happened to Betancourt's career. It launched her to international stardom, she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, the French love her more than their wine, and America is embracing her. Her book deal landed her millions on three separate continents. Two different films are being made about her ordeal. Further, for a cool $25,000, a couple of first-class airline tickets and hotel accommodations, Betancourt will come and speak at any event. She will justify why she tried to sue the very government that rescued her and explain away just why her fellow hostages (including a former close friend, Clara Rojas, who was kidnapped with her) can't stand her. If you find one Colombian who isn't disgusted with Betancourt, I'll buy you a Coke.

What is most disturbing about Betancourt's account of captivity is the fact that she's the most unreliable narrator since Humbert Humbert. (If you take Betancourt at face value, then you likely also believe that Lolita really was a 12 year-old slut who wanted the old man to give it to her like a bad girl; you can stop reading here.) She seems to suffer from delusions so strong that she actually believes them, sort of like Cartman really believing that he wrote Jimmy's joke just before saving the town of South Park from the attack of the Jew-bots. Her accounts read like hazy visions conjured up in an alarmingly high fever; even the sexual assault by nameless, faceless captors in the misty green airs of the humid jungle starts to make you wonder...and it gets worse. Betancourt describes heart to heart conversations with her female captors that sound fabricated. She tells of a chance meeting with a nameless peasant, straight out of central casting, who warned Ingrid of visions of grave danger. She describes bathing Clara Rojas's newborn; Clara, whom Ingrid has been fighting with for years, then asks Betancourt to be the child's godmother. Right. Sure she did. Especially after Ingrid verbally trashed Clara for the first quarter of the book, snidely inferring that Rojas was sinking into madness. (Clara tells a very different story in her own memoir of captivity.) At best, these things are contrived, at worst, they are blatant lies. I would never put it past a politician to lie, but Betancourt, despite multiple claims to the contrary seems convinced of their veracity. Someone needs to pass the lithium.

When not attacking her fellow hostages on every page, Betancourt slips in unnecessary petty details for an extra sting, such as Rojas leaving the bathroom an "unspeakable mess," or another captive bragging about the cost of his engagement ring. One wonders just why these things needed to be in print, other than the fact that Betancourt is clearly out for blood. Our catty hero redeems herself in other ways, however, by teaching her captors French (suuuuuureee) and protesting until prisoners' chains are removed (uh-huh). Her former companions in captivity are so charmed by her that one wants to sue her for libel, one hates her more than all other humans on earth, and one has said "Let's not make symbols and icons out of women who aren't." The only fans Betancourt has left, besides the myriad of Hollywood actors and international heads of state, are the 3 boyfriends she had while in captivity.

What we have here is a book written by a woman whose personal trauma and highly cultivated public persona are battling it out on the page. The public persona wins, of course.

Read this beautiful book. Enjoy it. Savor it.

Just try not to forget who you're really dealing with.
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Reading Progress

11/21/2010 page 220
69.0% "I have never been more emotionally conflicted over a book before..."

Comments (showing 1-26 of 26) (26 new)

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message 1: by Renee (new)

Renee Oh, yippee - Another scathing review to look forward to! You actually take notes? You are my hero!! :-)

La Petite Américaine Well...when a book is really bad, yes, I do take notes :)

Veronica aw, I was itching to see your review. I'm sure you'll disagree with me :) Haven't finished yet, but within 150 pages of the end, and am captivated.

La Petite Américaine @Veronica: me, too...just need to think for a bit :)

message 5: by Eva (new)

Eva Leger I've taken notes too and it feels kind of nice to know I'm not the only one. Sometimes I have so many post-its and scraps of paper hanging out people look at me crazy.... lol

La Petite Américaine I'm going to delete all of it and write a review, but I need to think... Seriously am at a loss for words

La Petite Américaine Well...I think I will...I need to meet this chick in person before I can write a review. It's that intense

message 8: by Amy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Amy Hahaha. I just read this book and while I liked it, I seriously kept hearing it in Celine Dion's voice. And I could not figure out why so, it made me laugh when I read your review.

David Your review is the best analysis I've yet to see of Columbia's "Mama Piranha," if she end's up with a TV show called, "Ingrid's Betancourt's Jungles and Rivers," well, watch out electorate. I too got very sucked in by her writing, and if I'm honest I'd probably be willing to give up a year or two my life to be a FARC captive and ex-boyfriend #4.

La Petite Américaine Check this out from some chick's blog. Frightening:

La Petite Américaine After reading so many reviews on goodreads of this book, I really wonder if anyone else has thought that thick chick is crazy. Is it just me?

Veronica I wouldn't be that surprised if she was mentally unbalanced. Anyone would be after what she went through. Maybe it was worse in some ways for her than some other hostages, because she was clearly very used to being in charge and being either adored or feared by everyone around her.

message 13: by Jason (new)

Jason You have got me reading every piece of journalism on this topic. I think that what stands out is her amazing lack of self awareness, and her remarkable political opportunism. She appeared to have no real political career before this, and now she has a career as a survivor-celebrity. Perhaps her and Palin could go on a "mama grizzlies" tour!

David Interesting observation Jason, though the idea of Ingrid and Palin together would be the intellectual equivalent of a large cat playing with a baby mouse in the corner. Ingrid would eat her up, spit her out, and Palin wouldn't even notice. Thankfully, as Petite pointed out, Columbia doesn't have a Tea Party and suing the people who rescued you is pretty damn silly. Maybe Ingrid will move her political will to France where she is more loved now than Jerry Lewis was in the mid 60's.

La Petite Américaine I find her to be very self-aware in many ways, because she knows exactly what she's doing concerning her career moves, the publicity, the interviews, etc. In her book she is remarkably self-critical and reflective as well. That said, she is a people collector and a politician, so I don't believe much of what she says. The best book out of all of them abut the hostage situation has been Hostage Nation, it really bulldozes through the emotion and anger found in the captivity memoirs and just gives the facts. Great book.

La Petite Américaine Nah, she's staying in America. Closer to Gonsalves, probably. ;) I would love to see where that relationship goes. 50 bucks says it doesn't have a happy ending.

message 17: by La Petite Américaine (last edited Dec 31, 2010 03:53PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

La Petite Américaine Jason wrote: "You have got me reading every piece of journalism on this topic..."

I've read almost everything I can on it, too, and I've obsessed about this book and the topic for months. I've read 3 hostage memoirs and am now on book number 4 about it.

I'm not saying that this is a bad book. It isn't. I'm not saying I dislike Ingrid Betancourt, either, I kind of find her fascinating to be honest. I just think that as a nation we tend to embrace people for who they say us are, we never look beyond what they want us to believe. Americans with their hearts of gold seem beyond skepticism and are then outraged when someone isn't who they say they are (James Frey, Laura Albert, and Kaavya Viswanathan to name a few). I think it's better to try to know the truth before it bites you in the ass.

Veronica David wrote: "Maybe Ingrid will move her political will to France where she is more loved now than Jerry Lewis was in the mid 60's"

As someone who lives in France, I'm not convinced by that. She was popular before and just after her release, but she lost a lot of goodwill over the business of suing for compensation, and just generally turning out to be a human being, not a sainted martyr. I think she probably isn't cut out to be a successful politician :)

Incidentally, all the Colombian hostages had a legal right to sue the government for compensation, but given the way they were rescued, it was spectacularly poor judgement to do so!

David Thanks for the insights Veronica... Petite mentions the pure poetry of the language of the book. Ingrid's writing in both English and Spanish (my second language)is amazing and very beautiful. Even more captivating for me is her spoken voice (in both languages), her manner of speaking, her way with words, and her skill in an interview.

Veronica, is she the same in French? How does she "sound"? How poetic is the French edition? How is she in a French interview?

Does anyone know in which language she wrote the first draft? I assume Spanish (her 'mother' tongue) but possibly French?...

side note- If you ever listen to her mother's (native Columbian) voice and compare it to Ingrid's; I don't think I've ever heard a mother and daughter sound so different.

La Petite Américaine She wrote it in French, I think she was in Paris 18 months writing it.

Her voice...that's about as cultivated as Jackie O's famous "soft whisper" voice, beautiful to hear but not authentic, it's a practiced act in both cases. Sometimes I even wonder if she fakes her accent just for the added allure :)

message 21: by Jason (new)

Jason OK, let me retract the expression "self-aware" and substitute "lacking shame". There is something remarkably manipulative about this person. I do not wish what she went through in the bowels of the Colombian Heart of Darkness on anyone. However, there is something unsettling about her use of the experience. I guess that thing that strikes me most (and correct me La Petite if I am talking out of school) is that she seems untransformed by this experience. It does feel as if everything is going to plan with her. And the VF piece that described what she was wearing as she sat in a luxe hotel in Paris broadcasting to the Colombian hostages on the hostage radio provoked some cognitive dissonance in me. On the other hand, well, the fellow hostage and detractor that called her a terrible human being is a bit morally ambiguous himself, especially in his dealings with women.

La Petite Américaine Not transformed...good way to look at it. If you listen to and watch her interviews like I have, you will notice she never varies from a sort of rehearsed set of answers to questions, not makes me really believe that she just used the experience for her own personal and monetary gain. That, and she's gone completely mad and half the events she describes seem like hallucinations.
The ONLY interview I saw where she was remotely human and varied from her scripted answers was on Oprah, here is the link if you want to watch it: ... Click SWO sept 22 . Let me know what you think.

message 23: by Justthewayitis (new)

Justthewayitis I think your review is excellent.

I hope you reinsert the 'chest-pounding Celine Dion' line ....that line is better than anything Betancourt wrote in her book.

My biggest problem with her book is that takes advantage of an inherent failing of the human condition: our immediate tendency to fall in love the the idea of a thing/as opposed to the reality of the thing. In her case, she's a lying, opportunistic, selfish, and vindictive self-promoter---perfectly willing to throw her former associates, fellow hostages, and Columbia under the bus (not in pursuit of the truth, but in pursuit of self promotion, self aggrandizement, and money).

However, it's much more compelling (and exciting) to perceive her as a heroic, brilliant, brave, multilingual, beautiful and intellectual heroine....who---after spending 6 years in the jungle with murderous kidnappers---has devoted her life to (for a small fee) spreading the message we all need to hear: "Give Peace A Chance" "Can't We All Just Get Along" "We All Just Need to Sit Down and Talk".

Perhaps she should have the military helicopter her back into the jungle so she can sit down the FARC and restart the dialogue.

Ignoring for the moment that it was her lying, opportunistic, selfish, self promoting activity that landed her in the jungle in the first place----the great irony is that she was ultimately rescued (via a very dangerous plan conceived and carried out by) by dedicated military and special operations personnel---none of whom share her beliefs nor her faults---rescued by people who believe in truth and freedom.

I loved your review. It was very well written and truthful.

Bettencourt's book suffers in the extreme, regarding the latter.

So, I agree with her fellow captor's final assessment. She's disgusting.

Veronica La Petite Américaine wrote: "She wrote it in French, I think she was in Paris 18 months writing it."

I read it in French for this reason. There's a postscript in the French edition which maybe isn't in the English or Spanish ones. She says (my translation):
When I started to write, I didn't know whether I was going to do it in Spanish or French. Talking about it with my editor, I thought that most of the time the memories would come spontaneously in Spanish, but sometimes I might feel more at ease in French.

But from the first sentence I felt forced to write in French ... French gave me the distance and control necessary to communicate what I felt and what I had experienced.

It's beautifully written in French too, although there are a few stylistic oddities (especially use of tenses) that make you feel it's not her first language.

La Petite Américaine That note is definitely not in the English text.

La Petite Américaine Oh my God I can't wait for Yulia Tymoshenko to write her memoir. It's going to be Betancourt 2.0

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