Captured in the Colombian jungle

With all the unrest occurring in the Middle East, we often forget that other places in the world have similar problems.

In South America, the same conditions exist — wealth controlled by a few and poverty for the many. So, a few groups have discovered a way to get a share of the wealth.

As Tanna Patterson-Z’s novel Butterflies in Bucaramanga (NeWest Press) makes clear, the targets are often foreign companies and their managers. A way to get some of the wealth is to kidnap important foreigners and to ransom them.

Will Edwards is the focus of Patterson-Z‘s book, a mining company drill boss based on Ed Leonard from Creston. For many years, he worked at drilling operations at mines around the world. Though most situations were fraught with danger, nothing major ever happened — until 1998 when he took a highly-paid job in the jungle near Bucaramanga in Colombia.

Leonard’s experiences have been brought to life in Patterson-Z’s fictional account of what happened to him this time. After only seven days on the job, he was mistaken for a high-level executive and taken from the mining camp into the jungle and held for $2-million ransom. He remained in captivity for 105 days.

Before embarking on her novel telling Ed Leonard’s story, Tanna Patterson-Z had written only a guidebook to the Creston area. She had heard about Ed Leonard’s fate because his wife Trollee worked in the Creston Optometry firm owned by Patterson-Z’s husband.

So, when Leonard returned to his family after the ordeal, he told everyone about his time in the jungle. Patterson-Z told him he should write a book. He told her to write it if she wanted to. It took her six years to put all the stories together, much of it from interviewing Leonard and his wife Trollee.

In the end, we as readers have a beautiful novel that looks at one family’s life for the period of Leonard’s captivity. Patterson-Z’s technique is to interweave chapters about Leonard’s situation in the jungle with his wife’s situation back in Creston.  While she is worrying about his safety and having bad dreams, he is playing cards in a rain-drenched tent with two other captives.

As desperate as the situation is for the protagonist Will Edwards (think Ed Leonard), what emerges is a sympathetic picture of the leftist guerrilla forces in the jungle. Except for the grey-haired El Capitan, most of the guerrilla soldiers are young men and women. In fact, Will Edwards makes friends with them quite easily, and they treat him well — always knowing of course that he will be exchanged for money so they can carry on the revolution.

Two groups come in for serious criticism in the novel — Canadian Foreign Affairs and the gold mining company which owns the mine Will Edwards was working for. The Canadian government officials said they would not negotiate with guerrillas, whom they called terrorists. For its part, the gold mining company would not put up the ransom money because the drilling company was Ed’s actual boss.

What happens at the end in real life and in the novel is that the drilling company boss exchanges himself for Will Edwards. Will Edwards arrives home safely, but another Canadian takes his place in jungle captivity. What happens to him is another story.

The butterflies from the novel’s title are brilliantly layered throughout the book. They are like talismans for Will Edwards. Whenever he is at the height of despair or losing hope, gigantic blue morpho jungle butterflies float past and remind him of freedom.

And in the end, he is free — free to pass on his story to someone as talented as Tanna Patterson-Z.