#BookReview: Vanished

Mark Bierman

My Review

Mark Bierman‘s novel Vanished opens in a Haitian prison with a game of cards turned violent, followed by an earthquake. The chapter ends with the escape of a prisoner who will play a pivotal role in the novel.

Enter young widower Tyler and his father-in-law John, two Americans newly arrived to help build an orphanage for the beleaguered island. No sooner do they get settled at the American-sponsored Rescue Mission than the young daughter of one of the Haitian staff is kidnapped.

When Chantale goes missing, the Rescue Mission organizes a search of the surrounding neighborhood. The search comes up dry, and the leaders of the Mission take it no further, resigning themselves to Chantale’s all-too-common fate. Attempts to enlist the aid of social work agencies are also unsuccessful. Tyler and John decide to find Chantale themselves.

At the same time, they are well aware of the enormity of what they’re facing. If the problem of child slavery is so great that you can’t save all the children, should you even try to save just one? What about all the other children? John in particular struggles with this question as the violence escalates later in the book.

The narration employs alternating points of view, including the kidnappers’, to advance the plot and build tension. ( The third person narrator’s use of passive voice–when a sentence begins with the object of the verb, and the subject is not stated–made the action a little hard to follow in places.)

I was struck by the lengths to which Tyler and John would go to save Chantale, a little girl they didn’t even know. Equally striking were the lengths to which the kidnappers would go to prevent them from doing so. As a skinny, terrified little seven-year-old, she has negligible value as a manual laborer–yet the fight to save her is violent, bloody, and protracted.

In the Afterward, Bierman explains that he wrote the book to raise awareness of human trafficking. He chose Haiti as a representative location because his family had been on missions there. Even as I was reading it, the book raised the question in my mind of what form of writing is most effective to call attention to a serious social problem: fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, investigative journalism?

The intent with choosing fiction is to give a particular social problem a human face in the form of living, breathing people the reader can care about. On the other hand, particularly when a writer is very passionate about his cause, there is a risk of authorial intrusion into the story. I am gratified to report that Bierman does not sacrifice the characters or the plot to serve his cause, as worthy as it is. Vanished is a compelling read from beginning to end; at no time did I leave the story.

The Author

Born and raised on a farm near Brockville, Ontario, Mark Bierman’s childhood consisted of chores, riding horses, snowmobile races across open fields, fishing trips, and many other outdoor adventures.

Transitioning into adulthood also meant moving into large urban areas that introduced this country boy to big city life.

Drawing upon his many experiences as a private investigator and later, a correctional officer, Mark combines his unique experiences and imagination to create stories and characters.

The Inspiration

Before I begin, I would just like to thank Liz for her great review and for hosting me on her excellent blog.

She asked me to give a summary of what inspired me to write Vanished. Understandably, there is some trepidation about reading a novel about human trafficking. I want to clarify what is not in this book: rape, gore, excessive violence, injury or death to animals, pedophilia.

If you asked me, ten years ago, to write a book about this subject, I would have declared you insane. The truth is, initially, there was no intention of broaching the subject. I wanted to write about Haiti.

You see, my father, upon whom one of the main characters, John Webster, is loosely based, would volunteer to help build homes, churches, and other projects. I remember well, the photos showing the difficult living conditions. There were also the stories, none of which included human trafficking. There are bits and pieces in the novel that were gleaned from his experiences.

The second main character, Tyler Montgomery, is loosely based on my brother-in-law. The pair did make a trip to post-earthquake Haiti, back in October of 2010. I asked if they’d be willing to make a journal of their experiences.

Over the years, I’ve been understandably and justifiably questioned as to my choice of topic. In the early days, I always delivered a simple and pat answer about a desire promote awareness. If a problem is ignored, what hope is there to solve it? At the time, I truly believed my answer to be complete; cut and dried, no further explanation needed. However, I’ve only recently come to realize it’s not the whole truth. Please let me explain.

Those who are familiar with me, know that I’ve spent the last twenty plus years working as a Correctional Officer in maximum security prisons. This blog is not evolving into a prison tale. My job was mentioned because I want to help you understand where I’m coming from.

It took a diagnosis of PTSD, months of treatment, support, and deep reflection, to unravel the ‘other’ reasons for the birth of Vanished.

I have come to grasp the fact that it was also a product of a mind that sought to survive and heal. To find a state of homeostasis and make sense of the tragic and unfathomable.

The famous line from the movie, Saving Private Ryan, often comes to mind. Captain Millar and the Sergeant are discussing the personal cost of getting Ryan home. One of them says: “Someday, we might look back on this, and decide that saving Private Ryan was the once decent thing we were able to pull out of this whole Godawful, shitty mess.”

I’m not comparing myself to these brave warriors, but these are my sentiments, exactly.

The brain is extremely powerful, and I believe that it sensed something was wrong all those years ago, though my conscious mind was oblivious. It’s the frog in a boiling pot analogy. I was being cooked alive, and I didn’t even realize it.

The characters do represent, superficially, my family members. At a deeper level, they are avatars of my hope. Hope for something better, for this world, myself, and my loved ones.

Haitian Scene & Portrait

154 thoughts on “#BookReview: Vanished

      1. While I’m writing my book , slow ,steady and sometimes not so steady, I’m always encouraged that all the movies , so many books and even designs etc came from someone’s imagination . And everyone can use it even me

        Liked by 2 people

  1. Author D.C. Gilbert has also delved into the misery of human trafficking in his second novel, and will expand it in the third installment in the JD Cordell action series called Reciprocity, set in Thailand. Scenes and language in this battle of good vs. will be rough ones.

    Liked by 6 people

  2. I studied the culture and language of Haiti at university and was struck by the story of restaveks – children given as domestic servants to other households, when parents could not care for them. The practice reached as far as Canada – it was before human trafficking became a known phenomena. This book sounds like something I would enjoy reading.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. I think you would enjoy reading it. After I’d finished reading the book, I was curious about what the Haitian literary tradition is. I’ve seen in recent years that my background in world literature is lacking.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. I read this more than a year ago, but it left a lasting impression. One of the things I thought about while reading it is how truly helpless we are when traveling in a foreign country. Tyler and John were in the unenviable position of having to trust some rather unsavory characters.

    Liked by 5 people

  4. Hi Liz, thanks for sharing your excellent review of Mark Bierman’s book. I also found this book engrossing although there are a lot of similar issues in South Africa and neighbouring southern African countries, so I am more familiar with this sort of horror than people for more developed countries. Nice to learn more about the writing of this book through the discussion.

    Liked by 7 people

  5. Excellent review, Liz and a fascinating tour behind the scenes from Mark – I was especially pleased by his reassurance about what the book doesn’t contain.
    I’ve seen troubling images of trafficking on this continent through a young African’s artworks when I worked in a gallery here (I wish I could remember his name). The book really sounds worth reading!

    Liked by 4 people

  6. Your review turned into such a profound post, Liz. I enjoyed this book and read it before I knew Mark’s personal connection. Now I know so much more – the book as an effort to make a difference, the legacy of his family’s work in Haiti, and his own journey of healing. His statement was so touching and powerful. Congrats to Mark on the wonderful review, and thank you to you both for the exceptional post. Hugs.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. Powerful stuff, Liz and Mark. I love learning the story behind the story, and this sounds like an intense tale about an important subject, told in a way that captivates readers. Thank you both.

    Liked by 4 people

              1. I know what you mean. there was a technique developed by Alex Biehl at Ogilvy (forgot the name right now) that separated roles: Problem owner, Scribe, Facilitator. All interventions had to start by “I wish”. And if you disagreed with a comment, you could lash at it. You had to phrase your “criticism”, starting by “I wish.” great technique. Used it many times. And the anme will come back to me as I send this reply. (Interactive Innovation!)

                Liked by 2 people

                1. I did like the Appreciative Inquiry method, which flipped the focus from problem-solving to asking the appropriate questions to get the organization where it needed to go. It can be oversimplified into Panglossian delusion, however.

                  Liked by 1 person

                    1. Indeed. Which is why I always worked with great moderators who most became my friends… (I did quite a bit of qualitative research over the years. Maybe 30-35% of all my projects.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    2. Yep. There were two major types of Market research: 1) Quantitative with large representative samples. You build questionnaires. Enter the data, produce tables and percentages, and multivariate analysis. Big projects. More money. 💰 😉
                      Then you had Qualitative research based on in-depth interviews and/or focus groups. Much smaller samples, no percentages. But Psychological analysis. To understand motivations, attitudes, deep rooted perceptions. Great fun. Very rich.
                      I did both. More quanti though because that’s where the big budgets were.
                      There are many additional techniques now. Trend analysis based on Google. Neuroscience… Anyway. Great stuff.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    3. Questions are fine. I made a living with questions. Yes humans. From 6 to 12 in a focus group. An unstructured discussion. The moderator has a discussion guide to make sure we cover all the intended ground. But one does not follow the exact order. It is important to let the group flow as their order or train of thought is important for the analysis. Sometimes the moderator recenters the participants if they stray away too much.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    4. Thank you. I was curious about the differences between marketing research with human participants and academic research with human participatants that require review and approval by an Institutional Review Board.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    5. Fortunately – or not – there is no review board. In SOcial sciences, the likes of Milgram and other experiments (Stanford) led to serious issues with participants. Hence the necessary review. However in both social sciences and market research revealing the extent of the objective might “kill” the experiment… A difficult balance. But necessary.
                      In Market research here we had guidelines. Just don’t ask anything unethical…

                      Liked by 1 person

  8. Dear Liz,
    thanks for your great review. But that is not the kind of book we would enjoy; we are sure especially after we have read Mark’s text.
    Keep well and happy
    The Fab Four of Cley
    🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You’re welcome, Klausbernd. I think it’s important to write a book review in such a way that people will know what kind of reading experience it provides, so they will know whether it is something they would enjoy or not.

      Liked by 2 people

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