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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
When traveling abroad, Americans often take with them a false sense of safety and exclusion from entanglement in the world's ugly battles. This willful naivete has vanished since Sept. 11th, 2001, and our own vulnerability has, of course, been made all too clear. But in August of 2000, many of us were woefully unaware of the powder keg that threatened the region of Central Asia that includes Afghanistan, Kyrgystan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan and would eventually explode in our own backyard. This ignorance would play an essential role in the fate of a group of young, thrill-seeking American athletes, drawn to the region for its spectacular landscape of Alpine cliffs.
In August 2000, four American climbers were taken captive in the Pamir-Alai mountain range in Kyrgystan by a group of Islamic jihadists with links to Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda terrorist network. The IMU -- the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan -- has as its goal the overthrow of existing governments, formed upon the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and the creation of an Islamic fundamentalist state. (The Kyrgys government believes their primary goal is to facilitate a drug trafficking route between Afghanistan and Tajikistan.) With all the staccato urgency of machine-gun fire, Over the Edge by Greg Childs recounts the ordeal of these four Americans who faced starvation, exhaustion -- even gunfire from the Kyrgys military, who may or may not have known the rebel kidnappers.
Held at gunpoint, the climbers would endure six hellish days and nights of a trek across the desolate terrain of the Kyrgys state before escaping by pushing one of their captors over a cliff. The passages detailing their decision to take another life to save their own and the dramatic, emotional turmoil that would follow are among the book's most riveting and scathingly frank. However, subsequent controversy over their actions and the veracity of their story itself would place them in the crosshairs of a second ordeal -- this time within the media -- as they were forced to defend themselves against the accusations of disbelieving investigative reporters and the Kyrgys government.
It is a complex roadmap of ethnic aggressions, border conflicts, and religious hostilities further complicated by the addition of heroin and the lucrative drug trade, but Childs provides a clear overview and a history that, alone, is worthwhile reading.
Childs doesn't overlook the climbers' own responsibility in the matter (He discusses how they placed themselves in harm's way and how their willful ignorance served to exacerbate an already volatile situation.) Nor does he avoid the role the American, Soviet, and Kyrgys governments played in promoting an inaccurate assessment of potential dangers. Perhaps one lesson to be gleaned from the American climbers' ordeal is that we cannot afford the luxury of ignorance. (Ann Kashickey)