Tag Archives: Castro

Curious about the Ariel Castro Case? Read Room by Emma Donoghue

4 Sep

This morning both NPR and the NYT announced that Ariel Castro, convicted kidnapper, murderer, and rapist, hanged himself in prison.

With Castro in the news, I found myself thinking of the haunting novel, Room, by Emma Donoghue. The book details the capture, imprisonment, and escape of a young woman–and here’s the twist– narrated from the perspective of her five year old son who is fathered by her rapist and born in imprisonment.

Room is eerily like the Castro case even though the novel was written in 2012, before the women Castro imprisoned were discovered. Unfortunately, kidnapping and imprisonment cases are all too common. So common, in fact, that Donoghue was able to piece together this fictionalized account by researching statements and files about previous kidnapping victims, most notably the Australian Fritzl case. That this tragedy happened again only makes the novel more relevant.

Room is a gruesome and realistic account of the conditions of life imprisonment, Without a reliable food source, “Ma” has to scrimp and save everything her captor, Old Nick, brings to make nutritious meals for her son. She asks for “Sunday gifts” of pens or paper to do arts and crafts with Jack, trying to keep the five year old entertained and stimulated in the tiny room, Without proper dental care, Ma’s teeth are all mush, her arms wasted from years of atrophy.

In her six years of imprisonment, Ma has attempted escape several times. However, she begins to sense that she no longer has any time to wait. Her captor has lost his job, has trouble paying the electricity bills, and has started to complain about the cost of feeding her and her son. Ma knows that there is nothing to stop Old Nick from being evicted and leaving his two dependents in the room under the shed to starve or freeze to death.

Ma’s description of Old Nick’s financial instability mirrors that of Castro. Castro lost his job as a bus driver in 2012 and his home was under foreclosure for unpaid real estate taxes at the time of his arrest. Like Ma, perhaps the decision by Castro’s victims to attempt escape was partially determined because of the financial crisis.

While Donoghue’s decision to write from the perspective of Jack seems to have dominated her understanding of the novel’s function (as more of a linguistic and psychological character study challenge), readers remain captivated by the character of Ma, who is both deeply depressed and deeply determined to care for her son.

Readers are confronted by Ma’s limitations as a mother, a woman, and a survivor. The novel forces readers to accept the brutality of public judgement on mothers, even ones who have suffered through untenable circumstances. Ma’s character is what sticks with readers after the book, challenging them to examine society’s role in her suffering and their own beliefs about “perfect motherhood.”

Title: Room

Author: Emma Donoghue

Also Wrote: Lots o’ Awesome Lesbian Books (some of which are historical, none of which are YA)

Kind of Like: A Child Called It

Verdict: Four Stars

Read this if: You’re looking for a quick read that narrates from the perspective of a kidnapping victim


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