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AN EVIL CRADLING by Brian Keenan


The Five-Year Ordeal of a Hostage

by Brian Keenan

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-670-85146-9
Publisher: Viking

 A hostage memoir unlike any other--because from the nearly unimaginable degradations that Keenan, a working-class Irishman, suffered for four and a half years at the hands of Muslim extremists, he's woven not only a compelling tale of endurance but an indelible testament to, as he puts it, ``the richness, perhaps even enchantment, of humanity.'' In 1986, Keenan, then 36 and teaching in Beirut, was snatched by Shi'ite gunmen--an act he describes in the kind of penetrative detail that distinguishes his narrative: ``I noticed two of [the gunmen] breathing very fast. These men were not exhausted by an expenditure of energy, but by fear. That erratic breathing was a deadly give-away....'' Keenan dealt with his own fear by telling himself that he would be released within two weeks; after that time and more had passed in terrible isolation, he slipped into a hallucinatory madness (``Excrement, sweat, the perspiration of a body and a mind passing through waves of desperation'') that he resolved to combat by ``becoming my own self-observer...letting madness take me where it would as long as I stood outside it and watched it.'' This technique preserved Keenan for his salvation: his forced bunking-down with hostage John McCarthy, an upper-class Brit. In their crucible of suffering, the two forged a friendship and then a love that transcended societal divisions--an unashamed sharing of their frail humanity that allowed them to bear the humiliations to come: ``[The jailer] was the violent lover and his abuse of my body was a kind of rape...I made no noise as each blow landed and was driven into me. My resistance was a joyful thing.'' Joyful, too, albeit less transfiguring, was the author's bonding with other hostages who came and went, including Terry Anderson. Finally, in 1990, as suddenly as he was taken, Keenan was set free. Harrowing; exalting; unforgettable.