I recently discovered that my original 1990 Secker & Warburg copy of this engaging and ultimately thrilling piece of VS Naipaulish reportage by the American-born broadcaster and writer Charles Glass is missing from my shelves. So hurrah for Harper Press who have had the sense to reissue it as an eBook.
In the spring of 1987 Glass, who had been based in Beirut as ABC's Middle East correspondent, wanted to get away from hourly deadlines. He persuaded his New York editors to grant him leave of absence so that he could write a book about the people who, either as victims or villains, usually provided the human fodder for his news bulletins.
Starting in the Mediterranean town of Iskenderun in eastern Turkey he intended, using whatever public transport was available, to make a land journey across modern day Syria, Lebanon and Israel until he reached the Jordanian port of Aqaba on the Red Sea. It was a route designed to take him through most of what the old Ottoman Empire regarded as its Arabic speaking Greater Syria. He never made it. Syria itself was solid as a rock. In Aleppo Muslims and Christians of all persuasions lived at peace under the tyrant Hafez el-Assad. Dissidents were murdered. Lebanon was in its twelfth year of civil war and, despite recent Syrian army intervention, still gave anarchy a bad name.
When he reached Beirut Glass was kidnapped and ended up chained to a radiator in one of the fero-concrete jungles in the city's southern suburbs where Shi'ite militias still fly their flags. His capricious captors were alternatively cruel and kind: treats one day, denied water and dehydrating the next. They called him Dallas, after the TV soap, and delivered a video recording of him to the local Reuters bureau reading a prepared statement confessing (in the most unlikely southern accent a Californian could contrive) that he was CIA. But from the beginning Glass had been determined to escape and get back to his wife and young children and he never stopped trying. Eventually, on his 63rd day, with considerable cleverness and daring he succeeded. To reveal how he did so would spoil it. Suffice to say that at this point his story, with its brutal honesty about his own fears and the awakening of his dormant Catholicism, is at its most compelling.
Glass still reports from his beloved Levant, mainly for the New York Review of Books.This eBook edition benefits from a new author's introduction drawing on his recent visits to a Syria that has now replaced Lebanon as the regional battle ground. The book's main title comes from Tahseen Bashir, perhaps one of Egypt's less predictable diplomats. 'Egypt is the only nation state in the Arab world,' he once said. 'All the rest are tribes with flags.'
[[ASIN:0753827050 England's Last War Against France: Fighting Vichy 1940-42]