Impossible Odds by Jessica Buchanan and Erik Landemalm

By:  Jessica Buchanan and Erik Landemalm
with Anthony Flacco
Publisher:  Atria Books
Published:  May 14, 2013
Genre: Nonfiction (Adult)
Source: NetGalley
In 2006, twenty-seven-year-old Jessica Buchanan stepped off a plane in Nairobi, Kenya, with a teaching degree and long-held dreams of helping to educate African children. By 2009, she had met and married a native Swede named Erik Landemalm, who worked to coordinate humanitarian aid with authorities in Africa. Together the two moved from Nairobi to Somalia, and with hopes of starting a family, their future couldn’t have been brighter. . . . But on October 25, 2011, Jessica and a colleague were kidnapped at gunpoint and held for ransom by a band of Somali pirates. For the next three months, Jessica was terrorized by more than two dozen gangsters, held outdoors in filthy conditions, and kept on a starvation diet while her health steadily deteriorated. Negotiations for ransom dragged on, and as the ordeal stretched into its third month, the captors grew increasingly impatient. Every terrifying moment Jessica Buchanan spent suffering in captivity was matched by that of her adoring husband working behind the scenes to deal with her captors. After ninety-three days of fruitless negotiations, and with Jessica’s medical state becoming a life-or-death issue, President Barack Obama ordered Navy SEAL Team Six to attempt a rescue operation. On January 25, 2012, just before the president delivered his State of the Union speech, the team of twenty-four SEALs, under the cover of darkness, attacked the heavily armed hostiles. They killed all nine with no harm to the hostages, who were quickly airlifted out on a military rescue helicopter. In riveting detail, this book chronicles Jessica and Erik’s mutual journey during those torturous months. Together they relate the events prior to the kidnapping, the drama of Jessica’s fight to stay alive, and Erik’s efforts to bolster and support the hunt for her while he acted as liaison between their two families, the FBI, professional hostage negotiators, and the United States government. Both a testament to two people’s courage and a nail-biting look at a life-or-death struggle, this is a harrowing and deeply personal story about their triumph over impossible odds.
(Image and synopsis from NetGalley)

My Thoughts:

Somehow when I selected this book, I had not heard the story of Jessica Buchanan’s kidnapping in Somalia in 2006, nor her rescue several months later.  Curiosity perhaps led me to select this book from NetGalley.

Jessica and Erik’s story is harrowing, life-threatening and emotionally tumultuous.  Their story is not always easy to read.   

Fortunately, the book’s rapid-fire start with Jessica’s kidnapping occurring within the first third of the book captivates the reader.  Jessica and Erik are working in an area of Somalia considered unsafe, but despite this, Jessica’s NGO requires her to travel across the Green Line, an invisible line to the naked eye and on maps but well-known to the peoples it divides.  The area, its culture and traditions are well described leaving an uneasy feeling about anyone’s safety who is not from the area.

Detailed information about their roles in Somalia is provided, and it is clear that as a woman, a westerner and a social worker, Jessica is a high risk.  The love and concern that flows between Jessica and Erik about an upcoming trip she must make adds significant tension to the story.  The book is quick-paced and filled with apprehension.

Despite the subject, the language used is full of imagery and flows well.  Some examples follow:

“Time drips, while the sickly awareness of how toxic and deadly the situation is builds up in my blood.”  ~ Jessica on her circumstances immediately following capture
“The afternoon bleeds into evening . . .”  ~ Jessica on the ending of
their first day in captivity
“The soldier . . . did much more than just carry me out of that camp; he took me all the way back out through the looking glass.”  ~ Jessica on her rescue and the feeling of
passing from one world back into another

Details of the kidnapping and the lengthy negotiations for Jessica’s return are nerve-wracking and often I felt tangled in the battle to free Jessica, who is after some time ill and in need of medicine and medical care.

The book relates a growing relationship between Erik and Jessica’s father and siblings, how they handle negotiations for ransom, the efforts of our country including the FBI and CIA to free Jessica, and the cooperation among all to free Jessica . . . and suddenly Seal Team Six frees Jessica and brings her home to her husband.

This is where I became disenchanted.  After all Jessica’s worry if her poor health will keep her from getting pregnant, something she and Erik have longed for but have been unsuccessful in accomplishing, and the risk to their marriage from all that has happened to Jessica during her kidnapping, not much is written about how the two handled a return to their marriage and work, moving forward, and eventually having a son.

Having read through the tension and details of all that had gone before, closing the book with some knowledge of how they successfully made it through the aftermath would have been rewarding.  Unless, they are perhaps planning a sequel.

I leave it to you to decide.  This book is well written, descriptive, as far as I can tell culturally accurate. Beware, however, that I felt it ended rather poorly for a book with so much energy, mystery, and apprehension throughout.

* * *

Meet the Authors:

Jessica and Erik Photo by Mia Collins

Jessica and Erik
Photo by Mia Collins

Jessica Buchanan was born in Portland, Oregon, but spent her formative years growing up outside of Cincinnati, Ohio. In 2003, Buchanan moved to the greater Philadelphia area to pursue a degree in education, and she began to travel during her summer months, teaching and volunteering in Honduras, South Sudan and Rwanda. She secured a student teaching position at an international school based in Nairobi, Kenya, The Rosslyn Academy, and was offered a full time teaching position at that school, which she happily accepted. She later moved to Hargeisa, Somaliland, where she was offered a job as the education advisor for the Danish Demining Group, the mine action unit of the Danish Refugee Council.

Erik Landemalm was born outside of Stockholm, Sweden, and did military service in the Swedish Navy’s Counter Special Operations Forces Unit as a Conscript Sergeant. He attended the University of Örebro in Sweden and the University of Newcastle in Australia. In early 2006, after having already worked with Somalia issues for various Swedish government agencies, Landemalm moved to Somalia to manage a program working with prison reforms and to set up Human Rights standards for the legal sector in the semi-autonomous region of Puntland. While working in Somalia, he also spent time working on programs in Zimbabwe and Kenya for the Swedish NGO, Diakonia. Landemalm started managing projects for a European Parliamentary association with a focus on helping the legislative institutions in Puntland and the unrecognized self-declared state of Somaliland build up their capacity and infrastructural needs. For his projects achievements in Somaliland, the President of Somaliland, on behalf of their Parliament, gave his project a certificate of appreciation in June 2011.

Landemalm and Buchanan have relocated to the United States and are now living in the Alexandria, Virginia area where they continue their humanitarian efforts to ensure a better quality of life for those in need.

* * *

I received a copy of this book from in exchange for a fair and honest review.



5 thoughts on “Impossible Odds by Jessica Buchanan and Erik Landemalm

  1. […] Impossible Odds by Jessica Buchanan and Erik Landemalm […]


  2. Sharlene Martin June 22, 2013 at 8:17 pm Reply

    The kidnapping took place in 2011, not 2006 and the rescue was Jan. 25, 2012. Jessica was pregnant when the book was turned into the publisher, so there wasn’t time to include all the details of her parenting. Suffice to say, they’re very happy and you can read more about them at They have left Africa and have resumed life in the Washington, D.C. area.


    • Sherrey Meyer June 23, 2013 at 9:27 am Reply

      Sharlene, I appreciate your visit here and thank you for correcting my typo on the date of the kidnapping. An oversight in my proofing obviously. And thanks for the update on why the book ended as it did. As reviewers, we promise to give fair and honest reviews. From my perspective as a reader and reviewer, I felt it only fair to share with my readers how I felt at that point in the book. Again, thanks for leaving your comments.


  3. Sherrey Meyer June 13, 2013 at 3:13 pm Reply

    Definitely a good read, Jen.


  4. Jennifer @ The Relentless Reader June 13, 2013 at 6:50 am Reply

    So many books end that way…leaving us with even more questions than we went in with. This does sound like a great read though 🙂


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