Freelance journalist Theo Padnos only wanted to grab a byline in a prestigious publication for a story about some riveting world event. But as he describes in his harrowing and absorbing Blindfold: A Memoir of Capture, Torture, and Enlightenment, he got much more than he bargained for.
In 2012, equipped with little more than a backpack and a copy of Paul Theroux’s Dark Star Safari, Padnos traveled to Turkey to report on the civil war in Syria. He met up with some young Syrians whom he hoped would help him ease into villages where he could observe the conflict. However, Padnos soon discovered that these men were not journalists as they’d claimed but rather operatives of al-Qaida. They kidnapped Padnos and whisked him away to the first of 13 prisons he would endure over his next two years in captivity.
Padnos’ exquisitely painful accounts of his torture, and the tortures and deaths of his fellow inmates, both horrify and provoke a strange hope that it can’t get any worse. He survives, in part, by dreaming of a brook in Vermont, letting his mind drift to the most important parts of his life and, eventually, writing a novel on paper given to him by one of his captors. When he’s freed and returns to America, he lives his “first hours of freedom within a bubble of euphoria” before settling into his new life.
Blindfold unfolds at a slow pace with a tedium that evokes Padnos’ own physical and psychic experiences. By the book’s conclusion, we’re drained and relieved that Padnos has survived. With emotional clarity, Padnos endows his captors with humanity, casting them as people struggling to survive in a world turned upside down, just as he is.
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