The horrifying events of Jaycee Lee Dugard's life -- abducted by strangers at age 11 and imprisoned for 18 years, giving birth to two daughters of her captor -- raise two simple questions:
How did she keep her sanity and emerge from her ordeal so apparently stable?
Why did she make no effort to escape as she matured, even denying her identity at first when police separated her from her kidnapper?
The questions are puzzling, the answers to each entwined in her narrative and more hinted at than fully confronted. But they are the threads that wind through every page of the absorbing memoir, "A Stolen Life," which Dugard writes is "my story -- in my own words, in my own way, exactly as I remember it."
The book opens with an author's note that the structure of her memoir "might be confusing to some," reflecting "the very confusing world I Iived in." Her style, she says, in which she presents what she knew at the time she knew it, may lack continuity or refinement, and may be "fragmented or jumbled."
Despite Dugard's note, the book is neither jumbled nor significantly disconnected. From the beginning, she recalls precisely the poignant details of her childhood, including her final day of freedom. That morning, she unknowingly made her final free choices for years, deciding on clothing and breakfast.
Minutes later, on her walk to school, Phillip Garrido pulls his car up next to her, shocks her with a stun gun and bundles her into the back seat.
"'No, no, no,' I cry. My voice sounds harsh to my ears. The strange man hauls me up and shoves me into the back seat and down onto the floorboards of his car. My brain feels fuzzy. I don't understand what's happening. I want to go home. I want my mommy."
She loses consciousness, and when she wakes some time later, she is terrified and hot. The man offers her a drink, and, Dugard writes, "I am so grateful for that drink -- my mouth feels so dry like I've been screaming for a long time, but I can't remember screaming at all." She hears her captor laugh and tell the other person in the car, whom Dugard will later learn is Garrido's fully complicit wife, Nancy, "something about how he can't believe he got away with it."
The first day or two is etched in Dugard's memory, from the stifling single room where she is taken to Garrido's warning that "I must be very quiet or I will get in trouble; if I'm quiet and a good girl, everything will be fine." Still, he handcuffs her and leaves her, coming back once a day with food and drink, eventually giving her a bucket for a toilet.
"I hated when he would put the cuffs back on when he left, so eventually I looked forward to seeing him and getting them off," she writes. Dugard begins to depend on the man who will take advantage of her youth and innocence.
After a week, he rapes her, and she says she learns to "go away" in her mind to escape the brutality. Yet he "acted like a nice guy when he wasn't using me for sex. I even started enjoying his company. I was naive and desperately lonely. I was locked in a room all by myself for days on end, and he was my only contact with the outside world. All I could do was survive and endure "
She does survive, and somehow she endures.
Left alone in the building, which Garrido once used as a recording studio and is therefore soundproofed, she tries the door, which is securely locked, but the idea of getting away and somehow getting home already seems impossible. "I have no idea where I am," she writes. It never sinks in that the entire state of California is looking for Jaycee Dugard, and she only had to find a single non-monstrous stranger to be saved. She writes, "I fear he will find out I tried to open the door somehow. He seems to know everything. I don't want to get in trouble. I just want to go home."
Dugard intersperses her narrative with essays, each titled "Reflection," which add her current adult perspective. They are invaluable in shedding light on what she hoped and feared as her captive life passed a day at a time.
She found thoughts of her mother so painful, and reunion with her so difficult to imagine, that she tried not to think of her. From her adult perspective, Dugard writes, "It is incredible, the depth of [Garrido's] manipulation. It did not feel like manipulation at the time. Only distance and time have revealed what life was like there and what life looks like from the outside." As a captive, she convinced herself that "it could be worse; there are so many people in the world in worse situations." This determined optimism may be what gave young Dugard the resilience that became strength as the years passed.
At age 14, Dugard becomes pregnant. She is terrified that her child will be taken away from her -- "How can I raise a baby in this environment?" -- but Garrido seems happy. To prepare, they watch childbirth videos and TLC shows on child care. Dugard delivers a healthy baby girl, whose name she represents as A, in an attempt to protect her daughter's privacy. Life, she writes, is "a lot nicer." The Garridos treat her better and she adores her daughter.
Two years later, she is pregnant again with a second daughter. Garrido fences in the backyard and finally Dugard is allowed outside. She and the girls occupy tents, squalid shacks and tiny buildings in the hidden second backyard that is never investigated by police or Garrido's parole officer, even when a neighbor complains that children are living in the yard.
Dugard's narrative contains hints about why she never tries to escape, and her reasons range from "who would want me?" to "I have nowhere to go." In 2003, when she is 23, she sees a TV news story speculating that the man who killed Polly Klass may have also abducted and killed her. She writes, "I wonder if they will show a picture of her [my mom]. I hope they don't bring it all up for her again."
As if her mother didn't think of her and miss her every day, something Dugard realizes only when they reunite. Harrowingly, while still a captive, Dugard shows the extent of her mental and emotional imprisonment when she writes, "Sometimes I wonder if I was ever given the choice, would I stay here or leave? There is no easy answer. There is a piece of me missing. Part of me will always be there with her [my mom]"
Finally, and most poignantly, she reveals that she chooses to stay because she believes that the outside world is an extremely dangerous place. Nobody knows that more than Jaycee Dugard, snatched off the street by strangers, brutalized and imprisoned for 18 years. She chooses to protect her daughters from the danger presented by people like the Garridos.
"The outside world was scary for me," she writes. "I was so afraid that if I left or tried to leave and take them both with me, I wouldn't be able to protect them. I knew they were so safe in the backyard; I didn't have to worry about anyone taking them like I was taken."
Finally, Garrido descends further into mental illness and abandons some of his shrewd precautions. He takes Dugard's daughters with him to a local FBI office to drop off a report on "Schizophrenia Revealed," but it is an events coordinator and a security guard at UC Berkeley who note that the girls seem subdued and investigate Garrido, learning that he is a convicted rapist.
When parole officers visit the house, they find Dugard, who says she is Allissa. When her custody of her daughters seems threatened, she writes her real name, which she has been banned from saying aloud for 18 years.
Joyfully reunited with her mother, Dugard enters a new, frightening world of paparazzi and tabloids. Time with her family and therapy with animals aids her recovery.
Dugard has formed a foundation to help other families trying to recover from abduction and other traumatic experiences. A portion of the proceeds from the book will be donated to the foundation, which is called JAYC -- Just Ask Yourself to Care.
Anne Neville is a veteran News reporter.
A Stolen Life
By Jaycee Dugard
Simon & Schuster273 pages, $24.99