3,096 Days by Natascha Kampusch

Review by Rose

‘He thought if life had not given him what he wanted, he would take it by force.’ Natascha Kampush.

A harrowing story awaits some innocent children and they are powerless to stop events about to unfold in their lives. It is not a story that any child would choose to be in, they are pushed into this traumatic place by abusive adults. At the moment the horror commences, when they feel the scream deep inside their throats, the one that builds like a crescendo, there is an expectancy that something in the physical world will dramatically shift: that the horror they are suffering will be manifest in the natural environment, the earth will stop spinning, one half becoming constant daylight, the other half constant light. But when they open their eyes they see that the physical world has not altered, though everything inside them is now different. For a little girl or boy, being abused by adults is a resounding surge of anguish and fear that affects them both psychologically and physically. Natascha Kampusch was one of these children. A ten-year-old girl who was kidnapped by Austrian Wolfgang Prikopil. This is not just a story of immense tragedy, but her story is also about endurance, bravery and an extraordinary spirit that withstood the darkest agonies any human being can imagine. It is a story of survival.

He was waiting by the side of a van on the road. Something about him seemed out of time as if he had stepped from a seventies movie. His clothes were old fashioned but very precise, his hair a little longer than usual, he might have been a student once, one that had never changed his fashion as time relentlessly moved on and he aged. For a small moment, little Natasha felt compassion. She understood what it was like to be different and for a second he had looked vulnerable. This was her first time walking to school alone and Prikopil, like most predators, most likely sensed her apprehension.

Yet, when their eyes met for a split second, she describes seeing only emptiness inside them. This blankness would never come close to depicting the void that lived inside Prikopil’s mind. When he snatched her, his big arms encircling her lifting her into the air, she describes the feeling as almost choreographed, that he and she had practised, again and again, this event in time, partners in a ghastly unnatural dance that would steal her from the normal world.

The room he placed her in was five square metres, six steps one way, six steps the other, it was buried under the house and garage and the door was incredibly thick reinforced concrete. The air inside was continually musty.

She tells us that one of the first books she read in the dungeon under the house, was Alice’s adventures in Wonderland. She connected to the transformation of the world that Alice tumbled into in wonderland and the bizarre rules that she was forced to follow in this stranger land. Here, in his family’s house, Wolfgang ruled like a deranged king, who had long ago lost his sanity. He was a paranoid man obsessed with time. Clocks, seconds, minutes, each had to be monitored, food was also a fixation, as was cleanliness, and the ultimate control over another human being. Anything that could be regulated he wanted to monitor it. He was living out a monstrous fantasy that had been trapped inside his head for many years. He monitored every minute of her day, restricting the amount of light she was allowed, the times she ate, what she ate, what she read, how she spoke to him. She was ten years old and had no choice but to comply with the kidnapper’s requests. Natascha discusses the fact that she does not believe an adult would have survived living like this. As a little girl she was used to following orders given by adults. But the extremeness of living under his rule would make everyday traumatic in some way. She asked him if he was going to molest her and he said no, she was much too young. What he wanted at this time was a human-robot slave, one that he programmed to do everything he asked, to accept his point of view on every subject, it was an unattainable request of a human being. It is also something he could never have in the real world.

Eventually, he created an intercom in the dungeon. He would speak through it checking she had saved the small piece of bread he had given her till a certain time, asked if she had been listening to music, or what she was thinking? As he wanted total control over her inner thoughts, something he could not accomplish even in this appalling situation. She would place her small hands over her ears, but even this would not shut out his voice that haunted her.

One of the most fascinating aspects of Natascha’s story is the methods that she used to prevent suicide and insanity. As a little girl, she would draw her old room at her mother’s place with crayons and hide it. She would recall the wallpaper of her old room and imagine being there. She asked Wolfgang to buy her a specific perfume her grandmother had worn, she had used the scent to remind her of moments with her grandmother. She recalled normal healthy memories of her old life, trips out and places she had been, reliving them over and over again to keep some semblance of sanity. The symptoms of severe isolation are difficult and Natascha’s brain would begin to use a series of complex approaches to cope with it. Natascha did have moments of overwhelming despair throughout her captivity, where she was frequently hit and starved but she continued to dream about the future and escape. She told herself that the kidnapper must have some good sides, as a little girl, she tried to reason with him. But Wolgang’s mental health was severely damaged and he could fall into a rage very fast.

Despite years living with him, as she became older and he allowed her up into the house to clean, everything had to be cleaned till it shone. She began to plan an escape. Despite all the bad days and years she had experienced, she still focused on freedom and happiness. She finally escaped when she was eighteen years old.

The story is intelligently written, Natascha analyses her kidnapper and his mind as well as giving us a detailed insight into her thinking during her captivity. She discusses her feelings about Prikopil and the fact that their relationship was deeply complex, as he was the only human being she interacted with from ten years old. She discusses the media who used headlines after she escaped that were not based on truth, and the negativity as well as the positivity of the public after she escaped. Natascha would eventually go on to write about cyberbullying that she experienced during her freedom. Something difficult to fathom after what she had suffered.