Tuesday, December 25, 2007
Book review: In the Presence of My Enemies
I can't even remember where I heard about this book. I think some website must have recommended it to me after I enjoyed Terry Waite's Taken on Trust so much.
In any case, it was a good recommendation. In the Presence of My Enemies is not nearly so cerebral as Taken on Trust, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. It was written by Gracia Burnham, the only hostage (of Abu Sayyaf) who survived the botched rescue attempt by the Philippine army. She had managed to survive sixteen previous such rescue attempts until that day, and the intense gun battles that inevitably ensued.
The book is made special by the fact that she and her husband were missionaries at the time of their capture. So the question this book answers is not so much, "How do two people survive a year of captivity in the Philippine jungle?" but "How do two people, whose lives are focused on service, self-sacrifice, and worship, survive and even thrive during a year of captivity in the Philippine jungle?"
My only damage with the book was its sometimes callous treatment of Islam. However, I also realize that spending a year as a hostage to an Islamic extremist could definitely color one's view of that religion. I only wish she had taken more care to frame the "doctrinal" remarks made by her captors in the proper context - as the beliefs of a radical offshoot rather than the mainstream. Then again, perhaps I am just extra sensitive to this topic because I am a Mormon, and we Mormons always seem to be getting similar treatment in amazing stories like this one. I only ask for others what I wish I received myself.
(Speaking of Mormons, one of the native Filipina hostages who was later forced to convert to Islam and marry one of her captors is briefly mentioned as being Mormon. I wish I knew more of her story!)
The strengths of the book are myriad: Mrs. Burnham tells a fascinating story in a spellbinding way. She gets the autobiographical background out of the way early in the book (admit it, we all wish books like this would do that more often) and even then, includes only what is generally relevant to the story to come.
Having read them in such close proximity to each other, it's inevitable that I would feel tempted to compare Taken on Trust and In the Presence of My Enemies. And while they are both hostage experiences, they are very, very different stories and very, very different books. Fortunately, each author chose a style and presentation that best suited his or her story.
With Taken on Trust, I found myself asking what book I would take with me into solitary confinement.
With In the Presence of My Enemies, I am now considering what one toiletry item I couldn't do without if I had to live in the jungle for a year. I'm still working on whittling down my long list...