Terry Anderson (New York, Crown Publishers, pp320, $29.95)
How long could you stay sane locked in leg irons, blindfolded, housed on little more than a mattress, fearing torture and death at the whim of your captors, uncertain whether the person you love the most will be waiting for you should you survive? One year? Two? Three at the most?
On March 16, 1985 Associated Press/Chief Middle East Correspondent, Terry Anderson, was dragged from his car by Shiite radicals in Beirut and taken hostage. On Dec. 4, 1991, almost seven years later, he became the last of the American hostages to be set free. Den of Lions is Anderson’s personal memoir of his captivity and of the spiritual rebirth that enabled him to endure.
Anderson did not go into this ordeal a saint. At the time of his kidnapping he was in the process of getting a divorce from his Japanese wife, knowing he would probably lose contact with their eight-year-old daughter. He was also engaged to a Lebanese woman, Madeleine Bassil, who was six months pregnant with their child.
Anderson notes ruefully that he had been a heavy drinker but, as a hostage of Muslims, there is no alcohol; he had been a womanizer and now there are no women; he hadn’t read the Bible since he was a child and now it is the only book he has. He felt his worse fault was arrogance, yet he finds his captors even more arrogant.
Yet he writes of those first few months in solitary confinement:
Faith’s what you find
When you’re alone
And find you’re not.
Later, “The God I know and so many know, the one who touched me, the one I felt in my innermost being…is there to help me, to give me guidance and solace and to keep me in the knowledge that no matter how much I may be humiliated, no matter how much I come to dislike myself as my knowledge of myself grows, His love is unquestioning. He will help me get through it, even unto death, with grace and dignity, if I accept His help – that is the hardest part accepting.”
His captors aren’t his worse enemies. “I’m just scared, not of them but of myself.” Just when he thinks he has his anger or despair under control he losses it. And while solitary confinement is hell, living with other prisoners “isn’t always easy.”
…five egos in a room must clash and rub,
But differences are unimportant
next to shared laughter and pain.
Each takes from each;
each gives of what he has.
Two Irishmen, Brian Keenan and John McCarthy, became so supportive of each other while imprisoned that when Brian realizes he is being freed he actually fights with the guards to release John as well, shouting he will not go alone.
A Catholic priest, Lawrence Jenco, and a Presbyterian missionary, Ben Weir, get on famously, alternating “church” services each day. But some hostage combinations ignite real personality clashes. Anderson has to learn to be less domineering himself (a fellow hostage accuses him of “sucking his mind dry”) before he can attempt any peace-keeping among the others.
Memories bring pain
Sadly, remembrance of their loved ones brings the hostages more pain than solace. Anderson is doubly troubled because Madeleine does not fight publicly for him, as do the wives and girlfriends of the other hostages. As a single woman who has borne an American’s child, she fears for her own life from Moslem fundamentalists. Anderson thus has no way of knowing if she will be there for him at the end, should the end ever come.
Madeleine writes a brief but parallel account of her own personal struggle with black despair. For physical safety she leaves Beirut but it is hard being a single mother in a new culture, playing a waiting game with love and death. She dances dangerously close to insanity but eventually reaches a personal peace.
It is not surprising that Anderson, as a professional journalist, writes with ease, and even humour, “My liver should be lily white by now.” He is well versed in the complex nature of the Middle East’s political landscape; but it is his portrayal of the inner landscape, his struggle for personal dignity in the midst of human degradation that fascinates most in The Den of Lions.