By VITTORIA BENZINE, January 2022
Lost in Beirut details the epic of rising actor and jetsetter Ashe Stevens, who traveled to Beirut in 2006 for a business opportunity and found himself caught in the crosshairs of international conflict. Stevens and his spouse, Dr. Magdalena Stevens, partnered to write this memoir which hit shelves last month, 15 years after Ashe Stevens survived the original ordeal. Their volume stands as an art object in its own right, wrapped with vivid imagery. On its cover, Stevens streaks through the air, cannonballing into a crystal pool beneath azure skies punctuated only by actual, active rocket fire. The 252 breakneck pages beneath see Stevens navigating the archetypal inner conflict every human experiences, while uniquely in the middle of authentic conflict.
Lost in Beirut’s narrative starts in Los Angeles, where Stevens is studying at Cal Arts under the tutelage of a celebrated professor and mentor. “If there was ever a man made for the theatre, it was Rodger Henderson,” the book wryly notes. One day after Stevens is late to class, Henderson pulls him aside for some soul searching. Stevens says that when he looks in the mirror, he sees “a lost clown without a circus,” mist in his eyes. Henderson replies, “You have to go fill your vessel with the truth… your own story. Find your circus. You won’t find it here, in the safety of these walls and this country.
200 pages later, Stevens speaks to Henderson across an ocean, time and space, as he and his friends in Lebanon speed to the Syrian border under cover of night, escorted by ex-KGB agents in swift Benz’s from the 1980s. “Can’t make this shit up Rodger,” Stevens’s internal dialogue chortles through the adrenaline.
By age 28, Stevens boasts a burgeoning career in acting, travelling regularly and toting Louis Vuitton luggage full of designer fashions–Dolce & Gabbana, Chrome Hearts. His best friend, a “top L.A. club and concert promoter” named Danny, is organizing a monumental music event in Lebanon with 50 Cent on the banner. Riding on a leap of faith inspired by Henderson’s exortations to seize the moment, Stevens agrees to meet Danny in the Middle East–despite the protests of his family–acknowledging that death looms around the corner from us all at every moment, even though Lebanon’s prime minister had been assassinated in a car bombing just one year prior.
“They go to Beirut for the glory and get stuck there as the country is tipped into war overnight,” a press release for the project explains. The 2006 Lebanon War took place from July 12 to August 14, 2006. The 34-day conflict between Israeli forces and the Lebanese Shia Islamist political party Hezbollah sparked exteme rocket fire in both directions, compromising civillians and inciting terror. Eventually, “Ashe and his friends attempts an escape to the Syrian border, only to then be pursued by jihadists in Jordan,” the release continues. “After weeks of waiting for a flight out, he sits alone–shell shocked and exhausted–at the airport in Amman, praying he’ll soon be able to board the flight he’s ticketed for, and then continue home.” Of course, the protagonist survives, and even in the midst of this turmoil, moments of friendship, relief, and discovery shine through.
Ashe and Magdalena set out to finally put this story in words at the end of 2019, after Ashe had spent more than a decade dealing with the PTSD from his life-threatening adventure beyond America’s safety net. Months into their work, the pandemic of course broke out. Medical Dr. Magdelena Stevens was called to work on the frontlines during the crisis, providing urgent care. Nevertheless the duo persisted, writing every free second they could find. Lost in Beirut stands a testament to the power of facing life’s endless unknowns with unflinching bravery, compounded by the circumstances under which it was written.
This memoir also joins the canon of tales from Westerners who experienced conflict in the Middle East during those chaotic years following 9/11. The duo’s decision to wait a full 15 years before writing means Stevens benefitted from sufficient time to process this legitimately groundbreaking experience. As Stevens and his cohorts collaborate with an arms dealer to determine a route towards the Syrian border, their contact suggests first a speed boat, then a small plane. Suddenly they’re all struck by the impact this individual’s high-octane life has dealt on his decision-making capabilities, how he lives life like a game of roulette. One has to wonder if there’s something to that approach, if maybe Stevens and his posse would’ve survived the Israeli naval and air blockades on boldness alone. Risk and reward prove underlying motifs.
However, Lost in Beirut avoids glamorizing the actual turmoil at the heart of this conflict with bursts of astute observation. As Stevens and his friends enter Syria from Lebanon, they bypass an endless line of Lebanese refugees by virtue of their American passports. Stevens conjures a sordid comparison to the velvet ropes that opened for him throughout LA’s nightlife. When it’s revealed that one member of their party has stolen a passport, the revelation calls into clarity a crucial question: what would a human being do to secure that type of privilege, if they felt their life depended on it?
Lost in Beirut’s honest account of rigorous self-discovery comes suited to the specific COVID and (someday) post-COVID era that it hails from. “Now when Ashe looks toward the sun rising in the east, he can finally break a smile,” the release notes, “and Magdalena is once again filled with hope and the belief that everything happens for a reason.” It’s up to the reader to determine what those reasons might be. Available in hardcover, paperback, and eBook editions, Lost in Beirut aims to inspire the hungry souls like Stevens searching for themselves through every kind of unknown. WM
Vittoria Benzine is a street art journalist and personal essayist based in Brooklyn, New York. Her affinity for counterculture and questioning has introduced her to exceptional artists and morally ambiguous characters alike. She values writing as a method of processing the world’s complexity. Send love letters to her via: @vittoriabenzine // email@example.com // vittoriabenzine.com
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