I was talking to a friend the other day about times past when Sunday supplements used to have small ads for ‘book finders’, individuals who, for a fee would track down out of print books. It was expensive and most people instead had to rely on the library or chancing on a copy while browsing a second hand bookshop. How the internet’s changed all that. Thanks to Amazon and eBay, I’ve now bought copies of all but one of the items on my ‘book list’ and can now browse for titles I didn’t even know existed.
And so I stumbled on the autobiography of the British Beirut hostage Jackie Mann, aided by his irrepressible wife Sunnie who was always on the news in the early ‘90s, as the search for her missing husband waxed and waned.
The book appealed to me partly because of the way the world’s been thrown upside down in the years since its story played out. In the late 1980s the chaos was in Beirut and its reporting journalists were based in Damascus; today, the journalists are in Beirut with Damascus in turmoil. Also, I admired Mann’s dignity and ‘stiff upper lip’ – being taken hostage as an old man, yet getting through the ordeal to spend precious remaining time with his wife.
I went straight for the chapters on the kidnap, incarceration and release, then turned back to the part of the book about his earlier life. I was aware Mann had been in the RAF but forgotten he’d been a Battle of Britain pilot, badly burned in a plane crash and treated by a pioneer in plastic surgery. Fascinating, the tricks of memory and the passing of time…
[Yours till the end, by Jackie and Sunnie Mann with Tess Stimson, was published by BCA in 1992]