cover image News of a Kidnapping

News of a Kidnapping

Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Alfred A. Knopf, $25 (304pp) ISBN 978-0-375-40051-3

In October 1993, Mauja Pachon and Beatriz Villamizar, the wife and sister of a prominent Colombian politician, were taken hostage by Pablo Escobar, the billionaire don of the Medellin cocaine cartel. The story of their captivity, and of the negotiations that led to their release, is also the story of a legal crisis that turned into a terrorist civil war and, in the last decade, left thousands dead, from the children of Medellin's slums (where people prayed to effigies of Escobar) to soccer stars and presidential candidates. The heart of the struggle, played out daily in Colombia's Supreme Court and the National Assembly, in newspapers, on TV and in the streets: terms of surrender for Escobar and his henchmen, ""The Extraditables,"" whose motto was ""Better a grave in Colombia than a cell in the United States."" This struggle has been reported to North American readers, notably by Alma Guillermoprieto in her recent collection of New Yorker correspondence, The Heart That Bleeds, but never with such tragic elegance as here, for Nobel laureate Marquez knows his subjects as friends or acquaintances and at the same time understands them as types, symbols of a national destiny. Their private premonitions, foibles and heroism fascinate him. What emerges from these pages is not just a chronology of the harrowing events of 1993-94, but also a detailed portrait of Colombian society today, in particular of the moneyed intelligentsia (known in Colombia as ""the political class"") for whom government and the media are still very much a family affair. Nevertheless, Marquez's calm sympathy reaches beyond these leading families taken prisoner by the war on drugs; he takes a human interest in the foot-soldiers who face certain death in Escobar's service--and even in Escobar himself, a doomed anti-hero whose ""most unsettling and dangerous aspect... was his total inability to distinguish between good and evil."" Perhaps the most remarkable thing about this book is its insistence on individual choice between good and evil, pluck and cowardice, at a moment when a lesser writer might see only the drama of a gripping true-crime story, with villains and victims foreordained. 100,000 first printing. (June)