And finally, my reposted review of Natascha Kampusch’s book. Natascha Kampusch was also abducted and kept in a dungeon in Austria for years. Incidentally, today is the 23rd anniversary of Natascha’s abduction.
I always wanted to be a mother, but given the recent awful stories about child abductions that have become so widely publicized, maybe it’s better that I’m not one. Thanks to the constant influx of news we get these days, I think if I were a mother, I would worry all the time about my kids. When I was growing up, I had the freedom to pretty much do as I pleased. I was all over my rural neighborhood and sometimes didn’t come home until after dark. Today’s kids, by and large, don’t seem to have that same level of freedom. Sometimes I think it’s ridiculous… until I read about people like Jaycee Dugard, Elizabeth Smart, or Natascha Kampusch.
In 1998, Natascha Kampusch was a chubby ten year old girl living in Vienna, Austria with her mother. As she writes at the beginning of her book, 2010’s 3096 Days in Captivity: The True Story of My Abduction, Eight Years of Enslavement, and Escape, Natascha’s early life wasn’t very fulfilling. Her parents were divorced and did not co-parent very effectively. Her mother wasn’t especially kind to her, especially about her weight issues. Her father was uninvolved and treated her like an inconvenience.
In fact, on March 2, 1998, the day her life changed, Natascha was fresh from an unsatisfying visit with her father. She dressed for school, ate breakfast, and headed on her way. She had no way that Wolfgang Priklopil was waiting for her with his white van. The kidnapper grabbed Natascha and forced her into the vehicle. He then drove her to his home, where he had built a tiny dungeon especially for her. The dungeon had just five square meters of space, but it would become her home for the rest of her childhood.
Over the next eight years, Natascha would come to love the simplest things in life, things that many people take for granted. She grew to love listening to the radio, which the kidnapper had originally set to only pick up stations that came from the Czech Republic. Not knowing Czech, Natascha had no access to information. Natascha grew to relish the very few times when she had a full stomach. Wolfgang Priklopil had an eating disorder and misery loves company, so he shared his food issues with Natascha. He forced Natascha to stick to very strict starvation diets, which caused her to lose all that extra weight her mother used to criticize her for. The kidnapper hated women, which may have been why he forced his captive to starve. When she started to get too “strong” for him, the kidnapper would withhold food again, until she was on the verge of collapse. He meant to keep her weak, compliant, and I daresay, boyish, a look that even extended to Natascha’s hairstyle.
The kidnapper was extremely paranoid of anyone finding out that he had Natascha with him. Conscious that crimes are often solved by hair samples, Priklopil forced Natascha to wear bags on her head. Later, he forced her to cut off all her hair until she was bald. He convinced her that if she tried to escape, people would die. He claimed that all the doors and windows in his house were rigged with explosives. In time, the kidnapper forced Natascha to do work.
Natascha Kampusch did not leave the kidnapper’s house until she was 18 years old, and even then, he was always with her, warning her against alerting anyone that she needed help. He would not let her call herself by her name or talk about her life prior to her time with him. Like so many other kidnappers, Priklopil knew that he had to erase his victim’s past. And yet, somehow, she was able to keep a sense of dignity. When her kidnapper demanded that she kneel and refer to him as “My Lord”, Natascha refused to do it. On August 23, 2006, she finally found the strength to escape.
Natascha Kampusch relates her amazing story in highly intelligent, dignified, and descriptive prose. Despite being pulled out of school at 10 years old, Natascha Kampusch is very educated, in part because the kidnapper gave her books to read. At the end of the book, there is a note that Natascha Kampusch wrote the English version of her book. It is very well written, albeit in a rather formal style.
I appreciated Kampusch’s analysis of what had happened to her. She relates the experience in a rather detached way, yet manages to offer a clear story of who her kidnapper was. In riveting detail, she explains what it feels like to starve. She relates how terrified she was when the kidnapper would become enraged and beat on her.
I also found it interesting to read about how people treated Kampusch when she was rescued. At first, people were very kind to her. But when she didn’t hate her kidnapper the way the public felt she should, they turned on her. Some people accused her of suffering from Stockholm syndrome, which she denies. I have to admit, her reasoning makes a lot of sense.
Priklopil committed suicide right after Kampusch escaped. When Kampusch heard the news, she was supposedly grief-stricken about it. The public didn’t understand how she could grieve for a man who was so cruel to her. But Nastascha explains that for eight years, her whole world revolved around her kidnapper. Her time with him was a significant part of her life and he wasn’t always cruel. There were times when he showed her small kindnesses, for which she was always very grateful. It seemed to me that Natascha came to the very true realization that no situation is all good or all bad. And no person is all good or all bad.
I admire Natascha Kampusch’s logic and dignity and wonder at her ability to survive and analyze such an ordeal. I read from a different source that after Priklopil died, Natascha Kampusch became his heir. She now owns the house where she was held prisoner… a place she never wanted to live in for which she now must pay utilities and taxes. Life is bizarre.
As horrible as Natascha Kampusch’s experiences were, I am grateful that she wrote this book. I found her story fascinating.
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