Chained to the radiator
The French-Canadian comic book author Guy Delisle landed a bestseller with his illustrations from international hot spots like Pyongyang, Birma or Jerusalem. In his latest book, Hostage he narrates a hostage’s true story. In France, Geisel was the top-selling comic book with more than 80,000 sold copies.
Prison is not as bad as a kidnapping, reflects the hostage, Christophe André. At least in prison, you know why you are there – and for how long.
In July 1997, Christophe André, an official of Médicins sans frontières (MSF), was kidnapped in the Caucasus. He was held in captivity for 111 days; he spent most of that time in a bare room and was chained to a radiator with handcuffs. The handcuffs were only removed for eating and daily toilet breaks. A stocky guard with a moustache kept watch, and it was impossible to communicate with him.
Waiting as drama
Christophe André already told the French-Canadian comic book author, Guy Delisle, about his tale of suffering back in 2000 – he took sixteen years to find the right form of expression for it: slow, linear and minimalist.
Hostage is 432 pages long; the style is simple and highly stylized, the pagination is unremarkable and regular and the blue colour hue is cool, almost unpleasant. Delisle doesn’t stage the period in captivity as a tense action-drama, but instead portrays the oppressive boredom, the demoralizing wait and endless repetition of everyday routines.
We observe how André guards against despair and madness by pedantically counting down the days and replaying Napoleon’s campaigns in his head. He stays alert, constantly searching for possibilities to escape, refuses any kind of fraternizing with the keepers of his dungeon and, after several months when the first telephone contact is made between him and Médicins sans frontières, he shouts down the telephone that they should under no circumstances pay the ransom money (one million euros), as he would be fine! The story only gains momentum on the last fifty pages – but we won’t spoil it and say how.
Hostage is impressive. Guy Delisle ostensibly narrates no more than 111 variations of the same daily routine – and yet, thanks to the insight into the emotional and intellectual life of the hostage, he creates a gripping narrative and atmospheric tension. The reader cannot withdraw from this tension – until he understands the kidnapping and captivity from André’s perspective and believes he can feel the handcuffs chaining him to the radiator.
By Christian Gasser
Translated by Suzanne Kirkbright
French edition: S’enfuir (Dargaud, Paris, 2016)
German edition: Geisel (Reprodukt, Berlin, 2017)
English edition: Hostage (Drawn & Quarterly, Montréal, 2017)