Sunday, January 16, 2011

An ever-lasting tragedy

book review

Book: Columbine
Genre: Non-Fiction, School Safety & Violence
Author: Dave Cullen
Publisher: Twelve 
Excerpt: "All two thousand students would return safely on Monday morning, after the prom. But the following afternoon, Tuesday, April 20, 1999, twenty-four of Mr. D's kids and faculty members would be loaded into ambulances and rushed to hospitals. Thirteen bodies would remain in the building and two more on the grounds. It would be the worst school shooting in American history – a characterization that would have appalled the boys just then finalizing their plans."

In April 1999, two students opened fire at their high school in Colorado, taking the lives of 13 people and injuring 24 others before turning the guns on themselves. The Columbine High School shooting subsequently received extensive media coverage and has since been the subject of a number of books, including Columbine, the result of a decade of research by journalist Dave Cullen, that covers everything from the shooter's planning of the event to its execution and aftermath.

Published in April 2009, the award-winning non-fiction book provides an in-depth look at the shooters, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, their actions prior to and during the massacre, and the efforts of the survivors to cope with the aftermath. Columbine follows a non-linear narrative that chronologically jumps back and forth. The writer has used a number of sources – including the shooter’s journals and videos, conversations with friends and family members, police records, and eyewitnesses accounts – to piece together and make sense of a complex tragedy, while dispelling various myths and misconceptions that surrounded the incident.

Cullen reveals that the massacre had actually been intended as a bombing but the explosive devices never went off, explains how Eric Harris is believed to have been a psychopath and Dylan Klebold a depressive, and argues that contrary to what was reported, the shooters had not been bullied and did not have any association with the Trench Coat Mafia. By pointing out the many disparities between what was presented through the media coverage and what really happened, Columbine also illustrates how fallacies can take over an event and create a misleading image.

However, the book risks leaving you so convinced that what we read and hear about events isn’t necessarily true, that it might even make you doubt Cullen’s version of the narrative, particularly at the points where elements of speculation seep through, especially knowing that opposing views have been expressed by various writers and people – most visibly by Randy Brown and his son Brooks Brown who personally knew the shooters; it can feel like swapping one viewpoint for another, not nothing if either is true.

Make of his analysis what you will, you won’t deny the extensive research that went into the book. Not only is Columbine gripping (albeit at times understandably hard to read), but it also paints a vivid picture of the shocking tragedy and how it went down, and certainly presents an interesting perspective. 

- By Sameen Amer

The Express Tribune - 16 January, 2011

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