“Reader, I married him, a Libyan career diplomat. For over three decades we lived in Libya, and his various postings world-wide…”
Libya. A love lived, a life betrayed follows the trajectory of Susan M. Sandover, who was lucky enough to have chosen an enlightened, forward-thinking Libyan career diplomat, Bashir, to spend her life with. They supported each other through the traumas, difficulties, and frankly terrifying experiences associated with the Gaddafi regime of US and NATO bombings, coups, a revolution and a blasphemy case but also enjoyed years of good times together.
The resulting stories are partially his, partially hers and partially theirs. Sadly, before he found the time or a safe place to write down his experiences in the Libyan diplomatic corps and to denounce the Gaddafi regime, Bashir died. In spite of his family’s efforts to destroy their relationship and appropriate his land during his illness, he made sure Susan had a safe place to live. It was only when Susan was alone that she experienced the full force of Sharia inheritance law and its tenets as applied to widows: she was entitled to one quarter of his property, the balance going to his siblings, hence the subtitle of the book 9/36. Susan’s life was never dull with Bashir: at times, spine chilling, but always filled with love and happiness.
Through all of these stories and many more, Susan displays her vast insider knowledge on Libya’s political, social and cultural history together with details on the final year of the Gaddafi regime. The remaining chapters comment on post-revolutionary Libya and the missed opportunities for reconciliation.
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5.0 out of 5 starsI love this book ....
What a thrill to find that Susan has a produced this book! So fascinating is this initial tranche that it has completely hooked me and I can't wait to read the whole book. Admittedly, I do have an intrinsic interest in Susan's story as I too have spent a large part of my working life in various parts of Libya, but Susan's narrative fills in many lacunae in my background knowledge given the great difficulty of ever knowing or finding out what exactly was going on. I was in Tripoli first in the 80s, working for the Libyan Petroleum Companies Languages and Training Centre in an adapted villa in the Dahra suburb of the city and which was run by a crazy Libyan poet. There were no official UK diplomatic relations with Libya at this time, and it was somewhat foolhardy to even be there as it was expressly against the advice of the FCO. Knowing what I know now, I don't think I should have done it, but the folly of youth and all that ...... It was a time when Gaddafi was going through one of his particularly loony periods, and the people were suffering terribly from shortages of basic necessities due to inept and mistaken economic mismanagement. Lockerbie happened while I was there as well as the Rabtha chemical factory siege; the possibility of foreign hostage taking became real at that point, and I did really did begin to think I'd been foolish to consider working in such a place. But, you might ask, why work there when the world is your oyster? I suppose it was the gentle resilience, kindness, warmth and simplicity of the lovely Libyan people that beguiled me, and brought me back and back. I did and still do want the best for them. They deserve it! My Facebook is still full of old Libyan students, many of whom have excelled in their particular fields and are now among the large Libyan diaspora spread around the world wondering if they'll ever get to go back home. I really got to know Susan and Bashir when I was working for the British Council in Jordan and Bashir had been posted there. I knew Susan a bit from our shared professional contacts in Libya, but it was to be in Jordan that I first met Bashir. He really was enormously charismatic and I took to him in a really big way from the word go. It's really not difficult at all to understand Susan's towering love for him so special was he and now how desperately missed. I'm the proud inheritor of Bashir's Oyster Card, which is always in my wallet, and therefore, with me. When I top it up each time I ride the Tube when in London, I think to myself, "Dear Bashir! Ride with me!" Buy this book! It's a one in a million: a page turner and a totally absorbing insider's view of a very opaque period in modern political history. But most of all, it's an inspiring tale of an exceptional love and friendship of two people for one another through thick and thin.
by Gavin Hibbs
A beautiful, delicate, lyrical, romantic love story first and foremost,and a meditation on intercultural marriage interwoven with insights into the private lives of diplomats - but in this case a diplomat and his life-partner are walking a terrifying tightrope between professional diplomacy and politically motivated spite and even life-threatening danger. With the lightest of touches, Sandover gives glimpses into the horrors of Gaddafi's Libya and leaves us wanting to know more. She is admirably even-handed and never forgets the Libyan people, devout, patient and long-suffering as they endure ignominy abroad and hardship at home but never she excuses the corruption of the regime as it becomes more and more autocratic and unpredictable. It is a testament to how very wrong things go when politics infiltrate a professional civil service, how completely a society can be broken down and incapacitated by dictatorship, fear and nepotism. It is a book that lifts just one corner of the veil of secrecy over events of international significance such as the murder of Yvonne Fletcher but above all it is a tender, funny, sweet chronicle of two people and their families, two lifetimes and the terrible, unthinkable betrayal that despoiled the last few months of Sandover's husband's life and his determination to provide for her even as his health declined. I recommend this book - look out for the tips on growing orchids, on surviving parties, coups, aerial bombardments and venal relatives - but above all enjoy it as a love story set against the story of a country that is still as mysterious, and as seemingly doomed yet as promising as ever.
by S M Thornhill