© 2022 90.5 WESA
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

'The Hostage's Daughter': A Traumatic Ordeal That Shaped The Life Of Sulome Anderson

SULOME ANDERSON: As far back as I can remember, maybe age 3, I was aware of what was happening to my father. I didn't know exactly how dire the situation was, but I always knew on some level that he might be killed at any moment. Though my mother never came right out and said it, it's hard to protect a child from something like that.


That child was Sulome Anderson. In 1985, her dad, Associated Press Middle East correspondent Terry Anderson, was kidnapped by Shiite radicals in Lebanon. He was held captive for six and a half years. Sulome was born soon after his abduction, and the trauma of that ordeal would shape her life. Sulome Anderson, who herself became a journalist, is the author of a new book. It's called "The Hostage's Daughter: A Memoir of Family, Madness, And The Middle East." She joins us now from our studios in New York.

Sulome, welcome to the show.

ANDERSON: Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: In the very beginning of your book, there's a photograph of you with your dad. And this was taken just after he was released. He's got a big smile, and he's holding a bouquet of flowers in one hand, holding your hand with the other. You're smiling, as a little girl does, but the circumstances are so bizarre in so many ways. You were only 6. Can you remember anything else about that moment?

ANDERSON: Yeah. I remember my father waking me up from a couch in the American university - I mean, the American embassy in Damascus and just said to me, hi, I'm your father. And it was a very strange moment because I remember looking at him and thinking, you know, he doesn't look like what I thought he would look like. So he took my hand, and we walked out of the embassy into, you know, this media circus - lights and cameras and yelling. And I just remember holding my father's hand and feeling it shake. You know, I thought, what has happened to him?

MARTIN: What did you know? I mean, you were so young. But what did you know about why your dad was gone? And what communication, if any, did you have with him?

ANDERSON: I didn't know exactly how bad the situation was. But, you know, throughout my childhood, I would get these little glimpses. I mean, I would watch parts of hostage videos, for example, because he would tell us that he loved us at the end always. But I always had this awareness that something really bad was happening to him.

MARTIN: So he comes home, and he's reunited with you and your mom. But that was just the beginning, in many ways, of a different kind of - not a trauma but a real obstacle for you and your mom and your dad, as you tried to piece together a different kind of life.

ANDERSON: Yeah. I mean, the public really wanted this to be, you know, a fairy-tale ending. People have followed this story very closely. But the reality was that my father, obviously, was very damaged by what happened to him and I think the problem was that he wouldn't admit it to himself or to anyone around him. And by the time he got home, it was almost impossible for him to reach past that and form a bond with me. And I felt that very strongly as a child. And being so young. I just internalized it and thought it was my fault that my father didn't love me.

And it all just fed into this sort of, you know, negative self-image that I was forming of self-hatred and shame. And my response to that, often, was to become angry and act out. And by the time I was 15 or 16, you know, I was well into what would become a very serious drug problem.

MARTIN: As you grew older, did you crave more answers about your dad's captivity? I mean, did you and he talk about what had happened in those years that he was gone?

ANDERSON: No. My dad never really spoke to - you know, at least not to me about it. When I was 10, I got my hands on a copy of my parents' book. So that was how I learned, really, the details of how horrific his experience was. But yeah, when I started to recover from my condition and ended up becoming a journalist and moving to the Middle East to Lebanon and I kept sort of stumbling on elements of my family's story. So...

MARTIN: Was that why you moved to Lebanon? Or do you think it only became clear after you were there that you wanted to figure out the circumstances of your dad's abduction - that you wanted to write a book about it?

ANDERSON: No, it wasn't.

MARTIN: So what pulled you there? You would think that would not be where you would want to go.

ANDERSON: Yeah. So I've thought about this a lot. And when I first moved to Lebanon and started freelancing, this, like, you know, well-known TV journalist asked me, did you become a reporter to feel closer to your father? And, you know, I hadn't thought about it at all up until that point. It had just been sort of automatic. But looking back, I think absolutely, I moved there and a big part of me subconsciously wanted to excel at this career so that we could have something to share - so that I could create a bond with this man that I had been trying to connect with my entire life.

MARTIN: What's your relationship like with your dad today?

ANDERSON: It's really wonderful actually (laughter). This book has helped both of us in so many ways. Because my father was so convinced that he was fine and he was so good at ignoring, you know, the damage that this has done on his psyche, I would say he didn't even admit it to himself or start really processing his emotions until I started writing this book. Because once he saw, you know, the fallout that his trauma had on my life, it was a wake-up call for him, I think. And my father, who I've hardly ever see cry or have any real overwhelming, powerful emotions, he cries all the time now (laughter). It's really sweet. I mean, it's like he's suddenly accessed this emotional self that he was cut off from for so long. And I think it's really helped both of us.

MARTIN: Sulome Anderson is the author of a new book called "The Hostage's Daughter."

Thanks so much for talking with us.

ANDERSON: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

WESA invites you to participate in an audience survey. We’re interested in how you use WESA and what you think of our services. Your responses will help us shape what you hear and read from WESA in the year to come. This is an anonymous survey; it takes about seven minutes to complete and there are several opportunities to provide comments and suggestions. You can take the survey through Tuesday 12/6.