Penguin, £7.99, 240pp from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030
3,096 Days, By Natascha Kampusch, trans. Jill Kreuer
Friday 08 October 2010
Twelve years ago, the 10-year old Natascha Kampusch was walking to school when she was snatched from a Vienna street and shoved into the back of a white delivery van. Eight years later, in 2006, she reappeared in a small suburban back garden, having fled the hermetically sealed cellar where her captor, Wolfgang Priklopil, had kept her hostage.
The basic facts of Kampusch's case have long been crawled over by the world's media, but her memoir finally see the victim herself (with the aid of co-writers Heike Gronemeier and Corinna Milborn) reclaiming the story as her own. Within days of Kampusch's liberation, journalists hunted through her shocking narrative, hoping for evidence that perhaps Kampusch herself had in some way encouraged Priklopil in his depravities and excesses. The problem for the press, and for readers, was that Kampusch was a complex and intelligent young woman with a complicated story to tell. At the start of her account, she freely admits that, even before the abduction, she was a far from happy child. The youngest daughter of divorced parents, she was frequently slapped and put down. Lonely and bored, she took to bingeing on Coke and packets of Bounty bars. Moments before her abduction, she says, she remembers considering throwing herself under a car.
But then began the more brutal and miserable era as Priklopil's manacled plaything. A former Siemens engineer, Priklopil had spent a long time preparing the tiny room (five metres by five metres) hidden beneath a trapdoor in the garage. During the early years of her imprisonment, Kampusch was infantilised - spoon-fed and given a toy train-track to play with - but with on the onset of puberty was made to clean the house without underwear, regularly beaten and starved. Eventually she was made to share his bed.
It's hard not to feel cast in the role of voyeur as the peculiar details of Kampusch's detention unravel, but her preternaturally adult insight into Priklopil's delicate psychological state transforms this highly articulate account into something else. Answering those who would accuse her of collusion, she claims that her attempt to empathise was only a very natural urge to establish a kind of normality where there was none. In the end, it was her understanding of her captor that enabled her to escape - her childhood destroyed, but her life intact.
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