“Deep Down Dark” by Hector Tobar. An account of the experience of 33 Chilean miners trapped underground and their rescue

Deep Down Dark by Hector Tobar is a true account of the disaster in a Chilean mine in 2010 which left 33 miners trapped below ground. I remember this well from news coverage and ultimately how good we all felt when the miners were recovered safely. Knowing the positive outcome doesn’t in any way detract from the tension as you read this story. The book was written by a journalist with the full cooperation of all the miners and most of their families, and he also had access to diaries kept by the men underground and the eventual official reports. I suspect that legal action was still ongoing when the book was written because there is no blame attached to anyone and no open criticism of anyone for what happened although it is obvious to the reader that there was a lot of negligence and mistakes were made.

The story, therefore, concentrates on the miners and is a chronological narrative following the day of the disaster in some detail, the initial life of the men underground and the experience of the people waiting outside. After the first contact the point of view switches regularly between those trapped and the rescue party. The author concentrates on a few of the miners who had significant roles, some positive and some negative, and especially those who kept diaries or notes. The book also continues to look at the differing experience of the men after they are freed and how many of the things promised to them never happened.

I was absolutely gripped by this book. The author’s descriptions were very clear so I understood what had happened and also the area underground in which the miners were living. I was angry on their behalf that there were not sufficient rations stored in the emergency shelter so that they were all severely undernourished when they were first contacted. I understood the various reactions to the accident and what helped the men and what hindered them. I could understand why some turned to religion and how this enthusiasm began to wane among those of different religious denominations. Obviously I can’t understand exactly how they felt, especially when they thought that they would never be contacted, but I did find the descriptions of their emotions very moving. The actual description of how the rescue worked and the men were released was fascinating.

This was an insight into the lives of 33 men from Chile and their particular experience. It is also about poverty and the lack of choice for so many working people. It is a clear and very well written book which helps you understand, if only a little, the lives miners live and the dangers they face on a daily basis.