It was barely morning on July 2, 1997, when Christophe André was pulled from his bed, handcuffed, dragged into a car, and driven across the border from the Russian republic of Ingushetia to Chechnya. As a Frenchman working for Doctors Without Borders (MSF), he was a target for Chechen rebels with ransom demands.
Hostage, a graphic nonfiction book out this month from Drawn and Quarterly, chronicles the 111 days André spent in captivity following his kidnapping in the Caucasus region. Guy Delisle, the French-Canadian cartoonist and animator, is known for books that document his international journeys, including Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea, Shenzhen: A Travelogue from China, and Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City. In his latest, he illustrates the story of André, whom he met through a friend in 2003, interviewed, and then included on every step of the process to make sure the book was an accurate reflection of lived experience. Delisle brings readers into the room with the hostage and, more importantly, into his state of mind.
The book traces André’s thought process, starting with his surprising calm at the beginning, when he thinks he’ll simply be asked to empty the organization’s safe. After he’s taken to a different location, he assumes that the procedure MSF has in place will kick in and he’ll be freed in just a few days. André methodically counts the days to stay grounded, but as they pass, it dawns on him that negotiations have stalled—or, worse, never started—and that freedom isn’t coming anytime soon.
More than two months pass before André finally gets confirmation from MSF that they are actively working on negotiating his release. But even then, he is overcome with guilt that they might have to pay the million-dollar ransom to the rebels—money that MSF then can’t use for its humanitarian mission.