A Voice for Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens by Lydie Denier 📚
I'm currently a member of a number of Facebook groups to promote my work on here and one of which, Bloggers Corner, I'm a moderator on. When Lydie Denier posted about a book she had written, I was instantly intrigued. My genre of books tends to be fiction, usually romance, like the last book I reviewed here, or dystopian, like my favourite book of all time The Host.
After joining the Facebook group, I just couldn't seem to get the book out of my head. Something about it was calling to me and so I decided to reach out to Lydie to see if I could get a copy and she seemingly happily obliged.
In the process of moving flats and all my physiotherapy appointments, I struggled to find the time to read the book but once I settled in, I picked it up and couldn't put it down. After the first couple of chapters I was hooked and just kept wanting to read more. By the second evening, it was done. I'd finished a story about the truly remarkable man that was Chris and heard the words of his former fiancée, Lydie, who sought answers following his untimely death.
While waiting to finish the book, I came across a few interviews that Lydie did in the build up to the release and I was actually shocked. From her writing, so eloquent and well written, I really wasn't expecting her to have such a strong accent from growing up in France. For some reason I imagined her reading the book in an American accent but I actually love that she's kept something from her home. In her written words, I would never have guessed she was French had it not specifically said where she was from and the visits to her family.
There are so many important topics covered in the book that it's incredibly hard to pick just a few to discuss here as importantly, they all bridge together to create the backbone.
Love and Upbringing
I think my favourite set of chapters were near the beginning where both Chris and Lydie had their own separate chapters about their upbringing. I actually thought it was really important that she kept them separate before bringing the two together. It really set the scene and made me appreciate how different the upbringing of the pair were. Total opposites: Chris from a 'valley so rich in hope and optimism' and Lydie from a divorced family, not unlike my own.
I loved the love and romance between Chris and Lydie. I was rooting for them the whole way through and having not known their story beforehand, I really wanted and prayed for it to work.
It's sad that it didn't work between the two because it's clear how deeply they both loved each other until the end, Lydie still, but I also admire the strength and courage it must have taken to put each other first.
'He was brought up to be a senator, president of a university, an ambassador, or maybe even president.' 'A man like that gains strength from a woman who is similarly educated and one who can help him get to the top and stay there. Not a woman like me. Or so I thought when I wondered why Chris was reluctant to make a commitment.' He 'would find no room in his life for a wife and children' and 'somehow, I knew in my heart it was never going to happen, and if I knew it, Chris knew it too'. Even moreover, the strength Lydie has when he comes back to her 'I told him I didn't want to start a relationship with him again. There was too much pain. I showed him the guest bedroom.' 'but when I came home, he was gone.'
I think the personal letters also make the book. It allows great insight into the man who can't be here to write his own words. While I would have loved to read Lydie's words back, understandably, she gives her view and responses in the present day.
Maybe it’s a generational thing but all the letters are very factual and static. While there are a few moments of romantic words, I often felt like I was reading an officer report at the same time. Clinical is the best way I can describe them, with very little emotion. If it wasn’t for Lydie talking around the matter, I would be very doubtful of the relationship being one of love. Having said that, Chris admits being poor at expressing emotion so maybe that explains it.
With all the important messages and milestones in this story, it is also with humour that the passage flows. I loved the little stories and memories shared. 'Men will admit to committing a murder before they will admit they're lost' is from one trip the former fiancés took together. It's so true! My father is the exact same; even though it would be much easier if he admitted it! I thought this phrase captured such a perfect image.
Another favourite of mine was a story of a donkey. When going for his regular run, locals were running next to him and asked where his donkey was. Of course, he explained he wasn't running to catch his donkey but purely for enjoyment of the exercise. They didn't understand why he would run and even invited him to work for him instead! I think this simply shows how different countries and lifestyles are in the world. Simple daily lifestyles vary dramatically in the world in so many aspects.
Lydie has clearly done so much research to ensure that the political matters discussed are factually correct and that is truly admirable. Being totally upfront and honest, they did go a little over my head at some points, especially when 2 solid chapters were basically a transcript of Chris answering questions from the Senate Committee. While I think that some people would find this fascinating, that part of the story didn't really interest me so I speed-read the majority of it.
One thing I did get from it though is how passionate Chris is in his job. By this point in the story, it should have become clear that he was incredibly dedicated and sacrificed so much of himself to put the career first but this was the point where I realised how much he loved his job. His responses to all the questions were so well thought out and detailed; he appeared to have a plan for every single circumstance and situation thrown at him. His intuition was astounding and he seemed to have a real connection with the people of the countries where he worked. He understood their needs and must-haves. From experience, he knew what needed to be done and willingly admitted his doubts and priorities.
The segment closed with a simple statement about wanting to 'displaying touching evidence' but a lawyer asked her not to include it. I appreciate that while she wants to tell the grit in Chris' story, she does it respectfully and doesn't disclose all the details...as much as I want them all!
Admittedly, while I wouldn't blame the whole government party in charge at the time, it does seem odd that 'over six hundred requests were made for more personnel' and all were ignored leaving so little security was on hand.
I hope that Lydie and others have found some closure in writing and reading this. I hate to think that they still have the feeling that 'in neither instance has the truth been told completely or at all for that matter'. Maybe it would be different if I was American, but personally I didn't like the very ending and how the political battle was brought into play. I think for Lydie it was important for her to release her anger but as a reader, I didn't want to remember Chris as a pawn in a political battle, but as a sweet and awkwardly affectionate, true gentleman who went on the achieve his dream.
I can understand the anger that comes when instead of searching or discussing the real reason, the media instead focus' on the fact 'Chris' supposed sexual preference [for men] must have set off the attack' due to a cropped picture posted to social media of Chris with a male friend after his death. I personally think it is totally ridiculously absurd, especially given the fact that the political leaders had already changed their story multiple times by this point.
Chris the Man
Granted this book is written from the perspective of Lydie, who may be a little biased in terms of Chris, but he comes as being such an intellectual, so sure of himself but never cocky. He never takes anything for granted and multiple times says 'if I am confirmed'. If. Always if. Not when.
Chris always tried to interact with the people of the country he was in. He never thought of himself as better than the rest and immersed himself in the culture as such. Jan Stevens, Chris' father, said "There was a risk to being accessible. He knew it and he accepted it." I think he was a very strong and brave man, who loved what he did. He did his job with such grace and it's such a shame that this is now the world we live in. I covered a Thursday Thought's post on the topic recently from my perspective but that's in my safe home environment in England. I literally couldn't imagine it in a hostile environment.
Chris the Legacy
"Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow." - Albert Einstein
Lydie chose to start each chapter of with a quote that represented its topic. I'm sure you're aware I love quotes and so I smiled every time I got to a new one. As I went through the pages, I kept wondering if she regrets any of the decisions she made. Did they both wish they'd gotten married when originally planned? Would they have kids? Would Chris have a living legacy? This quote put all my thoughts into perspective and made me realise that you make the best decision at the time and learn from it while moving on today.
That's not say he didn't leave a legacy. While the politicians may - wrongly - blame Chris for his own death, he leaves behind so much. I think the biggest by far is the emergency self-defence training before embarking onto the field. 'During this training Chris learned how to handle himself in case of a convoy attack, kidnapping, or other hostile events. He learned how to speed away in a car in reverse, how to manoeuvre a moving car from the front passenger seat should his driver become incapacitated and how to fire a pistol.' When I initially read this it sounded cool, especially speeding in reverse, but I was shocked that people were sent out - non-army trained people! - into such hostile environments. It clearly shows how much I know on the politics of the world. Nevertheless, 2 weeks was all Chris had to learn all this. Maybe you could learn how to handle himself but preparing mentally? Questionable. Those of higher power have since agreed and now it is 10 weeks and not the two that Chris had. I'm not saying that it was only due to Chris that this happened but it can't have harmed the evidence for it.
It wasn't just the attack that killed Chris, he also experienced multiple other 'attacks' one of which was while running in Tripoli when someone threw rocks at him, bringing an end to his runs off the compound.
One of the most touching moment is how Chris' family chose to commemorate the first anniversary of his death 'it is with vodka and peanuts...on the beach' as that was Chris' traditional evening snack. His family have since set up multiple funds with one 'establishing scholarships in Middle Eastern Studies at Chris' alma mater' or university for those who, like me, had to look up those words.
An Inspiring Memoir
Knowing prior to reading the novel that he dies, the little mentions of the future made me feel so sad: 'save it until the year 2020’ when speaking to Lydie or 'he also mentioned retiring’ in speaking about his last words with a friend. It's so true. We always expect there to be a tomorrow and sometimes, in reality, there isn't. You have to make the most of each day which is why I choose to take photos.
Please if you found this interesting, buy this eye-opening tale of Ambassador Stevens here now or here for UK readers. I will continue to follow Lydie's story via her Twitter which she seems to update most regularly. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and my only regret is that I didn't get this review up sooner.
From looking at pictures, it appears the book launch party and signing was a massive success on Thursday 8th September. I couldn't help but think about Chris and his family and friends that have been left behind with his loss. While others were remembering the twin towers on September 11th, this book left a raw and lasting impression on my mind which has really got me thinking more about the politics within the Middle East.
Thank you, Lydie. Thank you for sharing your story and for sharing Chris' truly remarkable life. The whole book gives great insight into his life and the love story between the pair.
It is honestly such a detailed book and a perfect memoir. Buy it here or here now. Support Chris, Lydie and where a % of the proceeds are going, 'WIRED International, a non-profit volunteer driven organisation' which provides medical and health education to LEDCs - a cause close to my medical-student heart.
'Chris Stevens changed me.' as he will many.
I hope that this review has done the story justice. I only hope that his story will inspire you, like it has reminded me, to not only achieve your dreams but also remember to cherish every day.