Book review: A Stolen Life, a memoir - Kidnapped!

Published: August 30, 2011
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Book: A Stolen Life: A Memoir

Author: Jaycee Dugard

Genre: Non-fiction, memoir

Publisher: Simon & Schuster (2011)

Excerpt:

When we are inside the strange house, he takes off the blanket and instructs me to sit on the wicker sofa. He is a very tall man. He has very light blue eyes and brown hair that is thinning on the top a bit. His nose is kind of long and his skin is a bronze colour. It looks like he spent too much time in the sun. He does not look like a bad guy. He looks like a normal guy. Like any ordinary guy you would see in everyday life. But he is not! He couldn’t be … could he? He shows me a black thing with metal ends that look sharp. He calls it a “stun gun” and he says he will use it again if I try to get away. He turns it on and I hear the strange zapping sound I heard before when my body would not work. The sofa I’m sitting on has a lot of cat hair. I look up and I see a cat sitting on a washing machine. The cat looks like a Himalayan Persian tortoiseshell and there is another one that looks like a very fat, tabby torty. I ask if I can pet them. He says if they come to me, then I can. One comes over and I give it a pet. Its hair feels silky and real. I think this cat is the only thing that feels real right now; everything else feels like a nightmare but this is too real to be a dream. The man says to follow him.”

While on her way to school on the morning of June 10th 1991, 11-year-old Jaycee Dugard was abducted by Phillip Garrido and his wife Nancy Garrido. She would remain missing for the next 18 years — a time she would largely spend as a captive, while being physically and mentally abused by her kidnappers  — and give birth to two children, before being discovered and rescued in 2009. Now a 31-year-old woman, Jaycee shares her story in A Stolen Life, a book that details the period she spent in captivity and how she is learning to rebuild her life following the traumatic events that stole her childhood.

The memoir sees the kidnap victim look back at everything that happened to her during the last two decades, starting from the day she was taken and winding up to her present-day life. Jaycee reveals the harrowing details of her life with Phillip Garrido and the abuse she was subjected to, presenting her thoughts, feelings, and confusion as she tries to survive the ordeal. She talks about living under daunting conditions in a concealed area in the backyard of the Garrido house, the births of her daughters, missing her family, the actions and behaviours of her kidnappers (including Nancy’s jealousy, and Phillip’s religious views and ideas), and helping them run a printing business; the book goes on to explain how she was discovered (after “two Berkeley cops saw something amiss” when Phillip took them all “to the parole office”), and reunited with her family, and culminates in her efforts to heal and move on. Also included are entries from her journal written between 1998 and 2007, as well as pages from Eclipse’s Journal, a diary she wrote about her cat Eclipse in 1993; being fond of animals, the writer mentions her pets in various parts of the book and discusses some of them in considerable detail.

The content of A Stolen Life, as you can imagine, is very difficult to read. All the horrific things that she endured at the hands of her deranged captor have been described in graphic detail, so the book is not for the faint of heart. It is a tale of hope and survival, but the details of all that was inflicted on her are explicit and disturbing. And while the author clearly isn’t a master of prose, this doesn’t take away the charm of the book; the memoir gives the readers a chance to hear Jaycee’s actual voice, which is why the grammatical missteps seem almost inconsequential.

Overall, A Stolen Life offers a unique look at the nightmare that a kidnap victim had to endure, and the physical and psychological abuse she suffered, and how she is now working to “unravel the damage that was done to me and my family”. Her story is shocking and riveting, and it provides a voice not only to her but possibly many others like her.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 20th, 2011.

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