Former rebel hostage Ingrid Betancourt launched her book “Even Silence has an End” Tuesday in six languages and 14 countries. Even before it hit bookshelves, it had already caused controversy here amid outrage over her multimillion-dollar demand for damages from the Colombian state.
Fernando Osa, manager of the Librería Nacional bookstore chain, says that when news of Ms. Betancourt’s demand emerged in July, he polled his customers on the bookstore’s website about whether they would buy her book once it was published.
“Eighty-nine percent said they wouldn’t,” he says. “With such an overwhelming rejection, I cut back my order of copies.”
But while many Colombians have vowed to boycott the new book, Betancourt's literary style, gripping accounts of her life in jungle prisons, and profound reflections on the human condition may end up enticing many. After six years in captivity, she was rescued in a military sting operation in 2008 along with 14 other hostages.
“It is exceptionally well written and by far the best of all the books by former hostages,” says Mr. Osa, who after reading the book decided to increase orders from the publisher. The response has been great, he says. Hours after it went on sale today, he had sold 50 copies in just one store.
More than about Betancourt herself, he says, “It is a book about evil.”
It begins with a harrowing account of one of her escape attempts: The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) recapture her, place a chain around her neck, and beat and sexually abuse her. “I felt like a victim of an assault, amid convulsions, as if I were inside a high-speed train. My body and my heart stayed frozen during the brief moment of eternity,” she writes.
But not everyone believes her description of events. Clara Rojas, who was kidnapped with Betancourt in 2002, has claimed the book contains “lies and spite” regarding Ms. Rojas's decision to have a child while held captive. And Betancourt’s ex-husband, Juan Carlos Lecompte, was reportedly planning to sue for half the book’s proceeds.
Betancourt, who holds dual Colombian-French citizenship, was a minor presidential candidate when she was kidnapped but came to symbolize the plight of all hostages held by the FARC, which sought to swap the politicians and troops they held for jailed rebels.
Following her release, many observers thought she would retake the political stage. Instead, she left Colombia and has only returned for brief visits, dividing much of her time between Paris and New York City. In July, she sued the Colombian state for $6.8 million in damages for emotional stress and loss during her time in captivity, a request she withdrew days later amid criticism that Colombian military forces risked their lives to save her.
An excerpt of the book published Sunday in the Spanish language Semana magazine prompted heated responses.
“We’re not going to fill her bank accounts [by buying the book] and we don’t believe in a lot of what she says after that way she had of thanking us for her liberation,” a person calling herself Blanca Bustos wrote on the comments page of Semana.
Meanwhile, Fermin Delagado wrote on the Semana webpage: “I am seriously considering buying it. I don’t like Ingrid for the same reasons that most people have, but the story is interesting.”