Meet the Author Podcast: Cathy Sultan, Author of “A Beirut Heart”

Cathy Sultan is an American woman raised in DC who ended up living and raising her family in Beirut in the 70s and 80s, including spending eight years during the cival war that began in 1975. She wrote a memoir about her experience, A Beirut Heart. Cathy writes:

“For six years I led the life of my dreams. My home was a rooftop apartment with a terrace full of flowers and a breathtaking view of the city. I was accepted and loved as a Lebanese. My husband had a successful medical practice and my children were growing up speaking English, French and Arabic.

But in April 1975, my life was abruptly turned upside down. On a quiet Sunday afternoon, the Christian Phalange militia attacked a bus full of Palestinians in a neighborhood not far from mine in East Beirut. This singular incident set off an infamous civil war that eventually engulfed the whole city. My tranquil treelined street, a block off Damascus Road and two blocks from the National Museum, became a deadly territorial divide: the infamous Green Line, separating East from West Beirut. Despite the constant danger, my feelings for my lover-city were slow to change. Instead of fleeing, my love affair with Beirut clouded my otherwise clear judgement and we stayed through the first eight years of Lebanon’s bloody civil war.

I spent my days caring for my family, racing under the bombs to rescue my children from school and comforting my physician husband who spent his days treating wounded civilians. I kept my sanity during the war in large part because I loved to cook. I entertained family and friends constantly, trying as much as possible to incorporate some normalcy into our lives. Little by little I acquired the coping skills necessary to resist and survive in the absurd dysfunction of war. Eventually, though, war took a huge toll on my family and in 1983 we abandoned our beloved Beirut and returned to the States.

It took a number of years for all of us to regain our sanity. And it wasn’t until when my son, by then a junior at Harvard, asked me to record our adventures in Beirut that I began to think about writing my story. What began as a project for my children quickly became my way to mourn the loss of my beloved Beirut. Another reason had to do with the attitude of people I met when my husband and I settled down in the mid-West. They seemingly could not relate to my war stories and quickly became disinterested. This painful experience was the impetus that stimulated me to write, to pour my heart out, to clease my soul of the traumas of war. A Beirut Heart: One Woman’s War is a memoir of my fourteen years in Beirut.”

Cathy is a remarkable woman with a remarkable story. When I talked with her, we discussed:

A Beirut Heart – Cathy’s story, a tribute to women living in war;

How Cathy came to live in Beirut as a young American mother in 1969;

Cathy’s book, Tragedy in South Lebanon: The Israeli-Hezbollah War of 2006;

The civilian experience of the war in Beirut and the struggle to maintain some sort of normalcy;

The difficulty of re-entering the “normal world” of the United States in 1983;

The development of empathy through a common experience;

What the individual do to understand conflict in the Middle East;

How conflict traps the least privileged and the plight of refugees from Libya;

Whether the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt will result in a better reality for ordinary people;

The Internet and social media in the current protests and revolutions in the Arab world;

Cathy’s work with the National Peace Foundation to give voice to the voiceless;

Cathy’s work in progress, her first novel;

Cathy’s book, Israeli and Palestinian Voices;

What ordinary Americans and Canadians can do to promote peace in the Middle East;

Cathy and her family’s Beirut reunions and the beauty and challenges of a rebuilt Beirut.

Links and Resources:

Cathy Sultan’s website

The National Peace Foundation

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