June 7, 2017

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The Big World Made Small in Guy Delisle's Hostage


In Hostage, cartoonist Guy Delisle’s bookHostage about Doctors Without Borders administrator Christophe André’s 1997 kidnapping, Delisle doesn’t go into a lot of the details of why or even what was really happening. The story begins with one night, one of Christophe’s first nights alone in Chechnya after being there for a few months when he was forcibly dragged from his room and taken hostage. It’s the beginning of an 111 day journey, not to any physical destination, but a mental and emotional journey where Delisle shows a man who is truly all alone in the world of billions of people and who resists his captors the only way he knows how to by retreating into himself and finding ways to occupy his mind even as he knows the worst thing could happen the next time the door to his room opens. 

Imagine spending every days and night for almost four months in only a couple of rooms, handcuffed to a bed or chained to a floor and not understanding a word anyone around you is saying? Delisle takes Christophe André’s very personal story and makes it something that the reader intimately experiences as well. Hostage is amazing because it makes you a captive of it just as its subject is a captive. Christophe’s story is filled with uncertainty as Delisle focuses on these really frightening events without letting its audience know what’s happening outside of these small rooms that Christophe is spending these months in. 


Christophe’s story is an amazing one but it’s almost equally amazing how much of the story that Delisle doesn’t tell. Keeping the focus on Christophe and his experience, Delisle narrows the scope of his story down to exactly the things that only Christophe experienced such as the rooms or the being taken from place to place by his captors. As we’re reading this book, we’re filled with the same uncertainties and anxieties that Delisle experienced. Through the storytelling, we know as much and as little as Christophe about what’s going on.

For these months, Christophe is truly alone in the world. Delisle shows how Christophe’s world is shrunken down to an area barely bigger than a 10’x10’ room. And even those small rooms are shrunk down to the space that Christophe is chained to. No one speaks anything other than a word here or there in any language that Christophe knows. Delisle’s focus never leaves Christophe’s side; we never get to see what’s on the other side of any door or outside of any window. And by keeping us in Christophe’s point-of-view, Delisle never offers any kind of glimpse of the larger world that’s still in motion just outside of the window that Christophe can't even get to look out of.

Bathed in cold grays and blues, Delisle’s imagery is all about the passage of time and moments blending together until time becomes meaningless. From the day he’s first dragged out of his bed, Christophe tries to keep track of the days, counting each and every one while trying to make sure that he’s also tracking the date itself. For Christophe, the difference between day and night becomes an ordering of his life that represents his normality and even hope. Each new days was another chance at his freedom. 


This ordering of his reality gives Christophe the focus to make it through each day. Between trying to track time and remembering the details of different historical wars and battles, Delisle shows Christophe trying to keep a grip on his sanity. Reading the book, these moments become these diversions for both the character and the reader, reminding the reader of the tediousness of Christophe’s captivity. It’s a type of forced boredom stretched out over almost four months without diversions or release. Amidst this horrible kidnapping, so much of the danger for Christophe is losing touch with something as simple as what day of the week it is.

More fascinated in the mindset of the victim than the actual hows and whys of the kidnapping and rescue itself, Delisle depiction in Hostage of Christophe André’s experiences as a prisoner isn’t a political event but a psychological endurance test to watch a man keep a hold on his own reality. Trapped in small rooms by captives who don’t even speak the same language he does, Christophe André’s story is about a man ripped away from everything and everyone. Delisle turns Christophe’s experiences into a story about isolation and fear of never finding your life again.