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The Girl in the Cellar:
The Natascha Kampusch Story
The Girl in the Cellar: The Natascha Kampusch Story by Allan Hall and Michael Leidig
by Allan Hall and Michael Leidig

Informative without sensationalism

In March 1998, ten year old Natasha Kampusch was kidnapped on her way to school.  Investigations as to the identity of the abductor or Natasha's whereabouts come to a dead end.  Then more than eight years later, Natasha, now a young woman, escapes to tell the world a story that will horrify the world. Natasha has spent this time as a prisoner in Wolfgang Priklopil's cellar in a suburban home that on the surface looks ordinary.  No one looking from the outside would ever have suspected that this ordinary man in this ordinary looking life  hald the key to an unimaginable nightmare.  Does Natasha's difficult childhood hide a clue to her future fate?  What kind of monster would commit such an evil act?  What kind of person was Natasha to be able to survive?  How was she abducted and why did the trails and investigation lead nowhere?  How did she escape?  How did this young woman, a woman imprisoned and living her childhood mostly alone, handle the instant media fame frenzy after her escape?

In THE GIRL IN THE CELLAR, journalists Allan Hall and Michael Leidig summarize the main facts behind this horrific true crime without sensationalizing the case, especially given the fact that Natascha Kampusch herself refuses to reveal personal details about her life and her relationship with Wolfgang Priklopil
and Austria's strict privacy make such information less available.  Without being a detailed psychological treatise that most lay persons might find tedious, the authors turn to those in the field to give readers some insight into the main psychological issues raised by this case.  Allan Hall and Michael Leidig also turn to history and literature to draw a picture for readers of the few existant cases of similiar but not identical situations that might help a reader imagine the dynamics of Natascha's captivity and her relationship with Woflgang Priklopil.  As such, this book is helpful in separating fact from media hype.  Readers of true crime familiar with some of the modern classics of literature will appreciate the author's literary examples to spark the imagination.  As with the parallels drawn to concentration camp prisoners, or their examination of the psychology, the authors do not turn this true crime story into a scholarly examination, but rather use such examples to fill in the reader's imagination and/or provide readers with other areas to explore without turning away from the case and issues in hand. 

Sixteen pages of color plates and diagrams accompany the text, allowing readers, particularly American readers perhaps less conversant in the case, to identify the key characters and events, then and now.  An index at the back helps readers relocate particular references after finishing the book.  Most intriguing are the author's insight into the media frenzy surrounding her escape, Natascha's marketing and branding of herself, and the effects this case has had within Austrian society.  Since enough time has elapsed between the hardcover edition and the release of the mass market paperback that some details have changed, this reader would have appreciated an afterward in this mass market edition to update readers on Natascha Kampusch's life and the possible official closing of the case.  

Written in a journalistic style that summarizes vast amounts of material into a logical, informative narrative, THE GIRL IN THE CELLAR presents the facts of the case while also identifying as unknown those details on which outsiders can only speculate.  As such, this book is helpful in separating fact from media hype.  THE GIRL IN THE CELLAR is a refreshing change from true crime stories this reader has previously read thanks to the Allan Hall and Michael Leidog's ability to tell the story without tabloid-like hype and also without romanticizing the culprit into a literary hero.  The case becomes all the more shocking and horrifying in the author's ability to describe the ordinariness of the perpetrator.  The authors do an excellent job showing the courage and strength of Natascha Kampusch without idealizing her.  The more troubling aspects of her media created image are not omitted.

Publisher: Harper True Crime (March 9, 2010)

Reviewed by Merrimon, Merrimon Book Reviews
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