Monday, September 16, 2013

"The Girl with No Name"

My mom and I finished reading a really fascinating book a few days ago called The Girl with No Name. The front cover of the book says, "The incredible story of a girl raised by monkeys." When my mom saw that she was intrigued and bought it for me for my birthday.
In this book Marina Chapman shares her incredible story. She was abducted as a child and says that she was so young when the abduction took place that she to this day doesn't really know how old she was at the time OR where she lived. (She estimates that she was between four or five years old at the time and thinks she lived somewhere in South America, most likely Colombia.) She also doesn't even remember her real name (hence the title of the book). You might be thinking, "what four or five year old DOESN'T know their name," since most kids that age (and even younger) can tell you their name. But by the time Marina had returned to normal society, she'd long forgotten her name. (I'll write more about the title of the book and it's significance later in the post after I've told you more about Marina's life.) For now, I'll be refer to the girl as Marina, since that's the name she ultimately chooses to be known as.

On the morning she was abducted she was playing outside near her home when two men seized her. One of the men put a cloth to Marina's face and she smelled an odd odor. (In hindsight she thinks that she must've been drugged with chloroform, or something similar). The next thing she remembered was waking up in a truck. After the vehicle stopped, one of the men threw her over his shoulder and they carried her into the jungle. When reading this I feared that these men would do something terrible to Marina, but something happened and they ran off, leaving her all alone in the jungle. It wasn't really clear if they had intentions to come back and get her or what, but they left her and never came back.

Marina was relieved to be rid of the men that abducted her. She got up and started looking for a way out of the jungle, but she was hopelessly lost. As the sun set the relief Marina felt quickly turned to complete terror as she realized she was completely alone. She spent the first night in the jungle trying to  make herself "small" and she curled herself into a tiny ball. She remained as still as she could, which was incredibly uncomfortable since she couldn't adjust her position, but she knew that the jungle was still very much awake at night and that if she moved or made any noise at all, she would attract predators to her. She was exhausted and managed to get some sleep that night, despite her fear and aching muscles.

When Marina woke the next morning she felt the warm sun on her face. She also felt an incredible thirst and a gnawing pain in her stomach since it had been 24 hours since she'd last had anything to eat or drink. This is an excerpt from the book where Marina describes her search for water:

I looked for hollows in stones and crevices, and scoured the forest floor for puddles. Copying the insects that buzzed and whirred in every direction. I peered hopefully into every kind of flower until finally I came across a plant with coiled, almost cup-shaped green leaves, edged with hairs. If they looked like cups, I reasoned, they might act like cups too, and, sure enough, when I peered into the interior of one of them, I saw a small pool of liquid reflecting up at me.

Feeling almost as if I had discovered a secret treasure. I pulled the cone of the leaf towards me and leaned into it. I then let my parched lips touch the glimmering surface. It felt like heaven, and I'd soon tipped the leaf carefully up and deposited the rest into my mouth. The water tasted odd. It was like drinking soil. But I didn't care. My thirst was quenched for a moment,

Here's another excerpt from the book, this one where Marina describes what she encountered her second morning in the jungle:

I opened one eye, just a little bit. The sunlight still bathed me. I opened it a bit more, my sightline tracking straight along the ground. And what I saw almost stopped me from opening it any further. So I closed it and, as gently and noiselessly as I could, turned my head to face the other way. 

A tiny peek from the other eye confirmed I hadn't dreamt it. I had company. In fact, I was surrounded. 

All trace of sleep had gone now, and as I opened my eyes fully I realised I wasn't just surrounded, I was being watched. All around me, at a distance of several paces, were monkeys. Motionless and afraid again, I tried to count them. Now I was nearly five, I could count up to ten, and it seemed there were lots more than that number ranged around me, and perhaps more behind me, out of sight, which scared me even more. 

But as I watched them, and they watched me, I felt my fear ebb a little. They looked like a family. Though they were all different sizes, they looked related. Big ones and little ones. Old ones and young ones. All with the same chocolate-coloured fur and paler belly, and ranging from what looked like the size of a small dog to no bigger than the parrot who'd bitten me. I knew they were wild animals and, after my experience with that parrot, I couldn't trust them, but some sense made me feel they wouldn't hurt me.

*The incident regarding the parrot that Marina mentions occurred the previous day. She found a parrot when she was searching for water and she stretched her hand out to touch it. When she did, it bit her finger.

There was a really interesting part in the book where one of the monkeys saved her life when she ate something that poisoned her. That story is way too long to put into this post, but if you want to read that excerpt, click here. Believe it or not, Marina even saw humans in the jungle from time to time, although she was fearful of them, so she always kept a safe distance. Once she saw a young woman who lived in a nearby camp giving birth to a baby. (The young woman had gone off by herself to give birth for some reason.) Marina watched fascinatingly and could tell that the mother loved her baby very much. Marina desperately longed for that kind of love.

(This obviously isn't Marina, but it's a picture that represents what she probably looked like when she was living in the jungle. The monkeys she lived with were a breed of capuchin monkeys.)
I'm majorly summarizing the book, but Marina stayed in the jungle with the monkeys for the next five years (of course, she doesn't know exactly how long it was for sure, but that's her best estimate). One day Marina saw a man and a woman hunting in the jungle. She was usually fearful of humans, but she thought that this woman looked kind and approachable, so she let herself be seen instead of hiding, like she usually did. The man and woman were surprised to see her and argued whether or not they should take her with them. They ultimately decided to take her in the end, and that ended the chapter of Marina's life where she lived in the jungle. (As I said, the front cover of the book says, "The incredible story of a girl raised by monkeys." In my opinion that's a little misleading, and I think I would say the story of a girl that lived with monkeys, instead of a girl that was raised by monkeys, but that's just me.)

Anyway, Marina was then sold to a woman named Ana-Karmen who was the owner of a brothel. Marina was essentially a slave and was expected to cook and clean, but that was easier said than done since she didn't know the first thing about cooking or cleaning since she'd been living in the jungle for the past five years and was unfamiliar with the human way of life. Marina had a lot of nonhuman/monkey-like characteristics. She wasn't used to wearing clothes/shoes, she wasn't used to utensils and "ate like an animal," she wasn't used to toilets and went to the bathroom in the yard, she liked to climb things and squat in corners, she didn't know what a bed was, so she slept on the floor under it thinking it made a nice canopy to provide protection, etc. Her biggest struggle was that the only language she knew were the noises the monkeys made, so there was a definite language barrier between her and everyone else. She was smart, though, and listened closely to other people and she slowly learned the names of things and what different phrases meant.

Ana-Karmen was an evil, vicious woman who was physically and emotionally abusive to Marina. She was convinced that Marina was stupid since there was so much she didn't know how to do, in addition to not being able to communicate well. Fortunately, some of the prostitutes that worked at the brothel were kind to her. One afternoon a man came to the brothel looking for the company of someone "young." ("The younger the better," he said.) This so happened to be on a day when Ana-Karmen was especially angry at Marina. Marina was terrified when Ana-Karmen offered her to the man. She bolted from the brothel as fast as she could and never looked back. Fortunately, she was fast, and was able to escape, never to return.

From this point Marina went on to be a street kid. There were lots of homeless street kids in the poor city where she lived and many of them formed gangs since they only had each other to rely on. She loved the freedom of this life, but hated having to steal food to survive. She decided to go to one of the nicer neighborhoods and hoped to find a nice family where she could cook and clean in exchange for food and a safe place to live. The Santos family took her in. They were a large, powerful  family that was relatively wealthy for that area. They were involved in organized crime and a lot of illegal activity went on in their home, which Marina witnessed. Sadly, they treated her little better than Ana-Karmen

Marina's two saving graces were the dogs she slept with (she felt more comfortable with animals and enjoyed having company) and a backyard tree she had access to. She was still a natural at climbing and felt comfort when sitting in the tree. From the tree branches of that tree she could see into the neighbor's backyard. An older woman lived there with some her children and grandchildren. Marina loved watching the woman because she treated her grandchildren so kind and lovingly. One day the woman spotted Marina in the tree. The neighbor (we later find out her name was Maruja) befriended Marina (her first friend). They developed their own secret sign language so they could silently communicate with each other, without the Santos' finding out.

Long story short Maruja helps Marina escape. Marina really wanted to live with Maruja, but Maruja told her that if the Santos family found out everyone's lives would be in danger. Instead, Maruja took her to live at a convent. She told Marina that she'd come back and visit her the next week, but she never returned. Marina is devastated and hates life in the convent. She has a safe place to live and food to eat, but she's not happy and misses her freedom. The nuns aren't very nice to Marina, either; granted, she's rather wild/unruly given her upbringing. Marina escaped from the convent and went in search of Maruja.

When Marina made her way back to Maruja's house, she was dismayed to see Marina because she knew how dangerous the Santos' were and that they would most likely kill Marina if they found her (and also do harm to Maruja's family, as well, if they found out that she'd helped Marina escape). That's why she hadn't gone back to the convent to visit Marina. Maruja acted quickly since she knew how unsafe the situation was. She arranged for Marina to go live with her daughter Maria and her husband. When Marina arrived at Maria's, she immediately felt a connection to her and felt safe. This is where the book ends.

The book was just published this year, and the afterword almost made it sound like another book may be forthcoming. I hope so, because I'd really be interested in reading it. I'd like to learn more about how Marina adjusted to life with Maria's family since she was finally in a positive, safe, loving environment. I know I covered all of the major highlights in this book, but there is so much that I had to gloss over or leave out altogether. This book is most definitely worth reading cover to cover. I think it would make a really fascinating movie. I wonder if that will happen at some point.

Marina was known by several different names in the book. She obviously was given a name at birth, but she forgot it at some point during those years when she was living in the jungle. When she was sold to Ana-Karmen, she was called Gloria since she couldn't remember her name. She was referred to as "Pony Malta" when she was a street kid. (Pony Malta is an alcoholic drink that comes in a small brown bottle.) The kids thought that Marina kind of looked like a bottle of Pony Malta since she was so small, so that's the origins of that name. When Marina the lived with this Santos family, they called her Rosalba.
When Marina went to go live with Maria, she suggested that Marina pick a new name for herself since she was starting a new life. The name she picked was Luz Marina. This is a passage from the book where Marina talks about deciding on a name and why she picked it:

"I loved "Luz"; loved the concept of finding the light after so many years in the darkness. But the choice of Marina was an interesting one. Would I have chosen it if I'd known that it referred to water?* Perhaps not. But what I do know is that I chose it because I just loved the sound of it. It was a name that for some reason felt connected to me. I still wonder whether it came from a comforting past. Had it perhaps been my mother's name? My own? 

I don't know. All I know is that I walked out of that church feeling like a human being, like an individual--no longer like an animal. This is me. This is my identity. I belong to a family, I remember thinking. My name is Luz Marina, and I am not an orphan. 

With that knowledge came a sense that I was now a new person. And, more importantly, a someone--a free human being. I couldn't wait to start the rest of my life." 

(My mom and I both commented that we both think it will be interesting for Marina to find out what her real name was someday. It probably won't happen until the next life, but I'm confident that she will one day know. I thought it was interesting how she felt so drawn to the name Marina and I wonder if there were some special significance behind it, like if it were her mother's name, or possibly her own name.)

This is the first picture of Marina ever taken, shortly after she went to go live with Maria. (She was approximately 14 years old at that time.)
I know Marina ultimately got married, and she and her husband have two daughters and several grandchildren. (Given all of the horrible things that Marina had to go through in her early life, I think it's amazing that she not only got married, but that she and her husband are still together. Here's a picture of Marina and her husband on their wedding day, and a picture of their family:
This is a picture of Marina and her daughter Vanessa. Vanessa spent years interviewing her mother so that she could get her mother's story written down on paper. This was a painstaking process and a true labor of love. Marina's written English is obviously shaky, so Vanessa's work proved to be invaluable in helping Lynn Barret-Lee (the ghostwriter) piece Marina's story together so she could write this book.
I thought these pictures of Marina were really cute. I love how she's often photographed in trees; she obviously still feels comfortable in them!


Deborah said...

Hi Heather. I read your blog every day. I really enjoy it alot and have learned so much from you. I've never commented before because I have trouble typing on my phone due to a disability. But this review was so well written I just had to tell you. Have you ever thought of writing a screen play ? I know you could do it ? You'd, of course have to research rights etc. just a thought. I know you could do it. You're an excellent writer. Thanks for the review.

Lisa said...

Love your review! You made me really want to read this book.

Julie said...

Wow, reading about this book was really interesting. I really hope they make a film of it. I've seen things like this on the telly but I've never heard of a true experience like this before.

What a hard life Marina has had. I'm so glad she found someone & had a family.

Thank you for sharing this. You have a great (brill:)) way of describing things:)

Post a Comment

I love getting feedback on my posts, so please leave me a comment!

If you have a question, feel free to email me at so that I can respond to you directly.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...