Kerr: Come With Me From Lebanon : An American Family Odyssey
Ann Kerr's book is a story that reveals that the wound of her dramatic experience has been healed. Recounting her story of involvement in and commitment to Lebanon and the American University of Beirut (AUB) underlies her nobility of spirit and the authenticity of her experience.
Ann Kerr's memory of her days in Lebanon demonstrates the loving partnership with her husband, Malcolm, and their common dedication to AUB not only as an academic institution but as the laboratory of values and principles that are the legacy of the Blisses, Dodges, and other founding fathers of this genuinely American institution of learning. Ann Kerr's book fits squarely in the tradition of the AUB American families whose legacy is at the basis of the goodwill for the United States in the Arab world. The teachers who loved Lebanon and its people also appreciated its traditions and understood its aspirations and agonies. They dedicated their lives to the institution they created, believing in its mission of "so that they may live more abundantly."
In a way the Kerrs sustained the wholesome innocence of the American purpose. This explains the attraction of the story and the coherence of Kerr's attachment to the memory of and her continued service to the university. She and Malcolm gave it the best of their talent and cherished it among the best of their memories.
Ann Kerr accepts her own personal tragedy as many Lebanese accepted theirs: She does not allow the assassination of her husband to mar her relations to Lebanon, her Arab friends, or AUB. On the contrary, she concentrates on continuing the mission for AUB to remain a beacon of enlightenment. As painful as the tragic death of Malcolm Kerr was, her focus remained on the underpinnings of her continued devotion to AUB's mission and the richness of its potential. The murderers' act is treated as an aberration but not as an interruption of her commitment.
Ann Kerr weaves her own life into the Lebanese story in such a manner that renders the book a valuable tool for an insightful understanding of Lebanon's agonies and hope. She makes vivid the Beirut of the 1950s and 1960s and renders meaningful the Beirut of the war where people were striving for normalcy, despite the bombing, sniping, and brutality. It is thus that choirs, the election of Miss AUB, tennis matches, dinner parties, elegance, and refinement can be described while the war is raging and without giving an impression of nihilism or absurdity.
This book is a must for those who genuinely seek an understanding of Lebanon and are keen to see Lebanon rebuilt both physically and spiritually. It is a contribution to deepen Arab and American understanding that appears to elude many policy- and opinion-makers at this time.
Hala Maksoud is president of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.