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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A harrowing but inspirational story, 12 Jun 2009
This review is from: I Choose To Live (Paperback)
Belgium became the focus of international attention in the nineties because of one psychopath's notorious crimes against children. The book is not about his life, crimes and trial in general (look elsewhere for such a book), but it is the personal story of one victim who somehow survived his kidnap and abuse.

Sabine Dardenne spent eighty days in his captivity and has had to live with the consequent public and media attention in the years since. Sabine's book explains some things that other books could not cover, since only she and the psychopath knew the facts. Even things that can be explained elsewhere come from a different perspective. While much here is deeply disturbing, Sabine's survival and return to something like a normal life should act as an inspiration to us all.

Sabine wrote the book partly in the hope that people would stop giving her strange looks or asking her questions about the case. Even more important to Sabine, she wrote the book in the hope that politicians, lawyers and judges would tighten their policies on psychopaths and paedophiles, especially when considering early release from prison. Sabine's captor already had a long criminal record and he'd been given early release for good behavior prior to his series of kidnaps. Whether this book achieves any or all of those objectives, only time will tell. Nevertheless, Sabine is determined to put the past behind her and lead as normal a life as possible.

Sabine tells us the harrowing story of her time in captivity and the abuse she suffered. A novelist might go into graphic detail to dramatize the events, but while Sabine makes it very clear what took place, she avoids any more detail than is absolutely necessary. Sabine wanted no drama, the detail being too painful and too personal.

Aged twelve, Sabine was cycling to school one day when she was kidnapped and taken to a filthy house where she was held captive in truly disgusting conditions. Nobody had witnessed Sabine's disappearance, nor has any trace ever been found of the bicycle, so there were no clues for the police to go on. At the time, Sabine assumed that she was the psychopath's only victim and eventually started pestering him to allow her to have some company. The psychopath decided to kidnap somebody else (Laetitia Delhez) and this ultimately proved his undoing, as there were witnesses to that kidnap who told the police. When the police came a few days later to rescue Laetitia, they were pleasantly surprised to find Sabine as well.

The public and media attention would have been bad enough to deal with, especially in a small country without a history of previous cases (Belgians thought that this sort of thing happened in Britain and America, but not their little country), but there were other issues to confront. Sabine survived but four of the psychopath's other captives (Julie Lejeunne, Melissa Russo, An Marchal, Eefje Lambrecks) hadn't, so whenever Sabine and the parents of those victims were in the same room, it was uncomfortable. As Sabine points out, she can't keep apologizing for being alive. Sabine also felt guilty about Laetitia, having pestered the psychopath for a companion, although Laetitia never at any stage blamed Sabine.

Another problem was that everybody was keen that Sabine should see a psychiatrist. Sabine wasn't interested, preferring to work out her problems for herself. She reluctantly made one visit but vowed never to do so again, that visit being a complete waste of time. On the other hand, several members of the Dardenne family needed and got psychiatric help. Those same people couldn't understand why Sabine didn't. As if all these problems were not enough, Sabine's relationship with her mother had never been great, so Sabine didn't discuss the details of her captivity with her family, causing further tensions. While nothing else in Sabine's life could be as bad as those eighty captive days, the aftermath was difficult and remained so for several years.

The trial only finally happened eight years after the crime. Sabine presented herself in a very dignified manner, much to the consternation of those who, incredible as it may seem, wanted to prevent her giving evidence at all. Sabine's optimism and determination helped her through her darkest days and will surely keep her going well into the future. I wish Sabine luck in whatever she does. For the rest of us, the story shows that however bad things are, we should always retain some hope.

I'm glad that I read this book, but it was an emotionally draining experience. I see that my local bookstores have plenty of shelf space allocated to books about tragic lives, but having read Sabine's story, I don't think I'll be reading too many similar books.
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