This is the true story of four young Americans, three men and one woman, who in August of 2000 ventured into Kyrgyzstan in order to rock climb in the Pamir-Alai mountain range. On August 11, 2000, while climbing, they would suddenly find themselves the target of sniper fire. After their descent, they would find themselves taken at gunpoint and held hostage by young Islamic fundamentalists of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. They would join a Kyrgyz soldier whom the militants had already taken prisoner.
The next six days would prove to be harrowing ones for these climbers, who would be marched thrugh the rugged terrain of the mountains with little food and water and constant threat of execution at the hands of their heavily armed captors. They would eventually see the their fellow captive, the Kyrgyz soldier with whom they had bonded, executed. With nothing to lose, they would be forced to make a life or death decision that was to cause them much angst but would allow for an escape.
The author's presents a somewhat dry chronicle of these startling pre-9/11 events, which in hindsight now seem to have a much more evil and sinister portent. The story is also multifaceted in that it grounds what happened to these climbers in a global context, giving the historical backdrop and political dynamics of the area.
The author fully lays out the media circus that enveloped the climbers upon their return to the United States. He also found himself becoming part of the story, as exclusivity and certain monetary arrangements he had made with the climbers threatened to dominate the story and cast a pall over the veracity of all. The author also lays out the secret pact that the climbers had made over the agonizing decision one of them had reached in order to effect their escape. It was a decision that they believed had led to the death of the captor who had been entrusted with keeping them captive.
The media circus around what had happened to them turned decidedly ugly when it was discovered that this captor was still alive and under arrest. What he had to say would then throw the media into a further tailspin. Thanks to the power of television, however, a Dateline NBC interview with the captor at the heart of the storm of the controversy would finally put to rest some of the unsavory portions of this true life adventure.
What really stands out is the naivete and ignorance of the climbers about the part of the world in which they were traveling. Notwithstanding the fact that none of them seemed to be particularly bright, they had done very little in terms of research into the area before traveling there nor had they heeded State Department advisories about the area. The climbers, in large part, remain somewhat of an enigma and, as such, the reader finds oneself caring very little about them.
This news saga originally appeared as a gripping article in "Outside" magazine. I had the good fortune to have read it and was transfixed by what had happened. I believe it was this author who wrote the article. In writing this book, however, he seems to have sucked the life out of the story. While still worth reading, it is an adventure story uitterly devoid of passion.