In 1956 Lawrence Lunt, a young American veteran of World War II and the Korean War, was a civilian living on a sprawling ranch high in the lush mountain range of the Sierra de los Organos in the western part of Cuba.
Mr. Lunt did not come to Cuba innocently. As he explains in "Leave Me My Spirit," a memoir of the 14 years he spent in Cuban prisons, he had been recruited by the Central Intelligence Agency before moving there. Under C.I.A. guidance, he shopped for a base in the Caribbean from which he could relay information about unrest in the region as well as provide the agency with a future secret base of operations. Despite Mr. Lunt's affiliation with the agency -- which was not exactly a fan of Fidel Castro -- Mr. Lunt rejoiced in the Cuban revolutionary's victory over the corrupt Batista regime in 1959. Dismissing reservations about Mr. Castro's pro-Soviet declarations, Mr. Lunt believed that he would be more democratic when he took power.
But during the next year, Mr. Castro's mass arrests, expropriations, newspaper closings and fiery pro-Soviet speeches transformed Mr. Lunt into a bitter partisan in the fight against Mr. Castro. Mr. Lunt's duties for the C.I.A. began with the establishment of clandestine political cells: "a foreman in construction, a voice in the restaurant syndicate, a naval officer, a man in Protocol, and another in the foreign office." He later became involved in the "coordination of airdrops of arms and ammunition and explosives, counterfeit pesos, medicines, and on one memorable occasion, the hysterical novia (girlfriend) of an anti-Castro guerrilla chief." It was not a massive espionage operation; Mr. Lunt did it part time.
Mr. Castro's Committee for the Defense of the Revolution eventually became convinced that the six-foot Yankee was up to something. Yet despite periodic harassment and menacing visits, the Cuban security forces did not summarily arrest Mr. Lunt. He continued to carry out his agency assignments.
The noose was closing around Mr. Lunt's neck, but he remained deliberately oblivious to the imminent danger (though he had sent his family to live abroad). Then, one day in 1965 as he was about to board a plane in Havana to attend his parents' golden wedding anniversary in Santa Fe, N.M., the inevitable happened: he was arrested and plunged into a nightmare that would stretch on for 5,230 nights.
In eloquent prose Mr. Lunt recounts the horrors of his incarceration by the Cuban regime and the barbarity of the prison conditions he and other prisoners held on political charges were forced to endure: periods of daily interrogation sessions, brutal guards, cells flooded by raw sewage, stretches of hard labor in fields or quarries, inadequate water, nonexistent medical care and omnipresent vermin.
In his stirring tale it is easy to lose sight of the fact that Mr. Lunt was a spy -- though not someone who had been in a position to compromise Mr. Castro's national security in a serious way. Yet for an embryonic regime under constant siege, faced with invasions, repeated attacks by insurgents and attempted assassinations by its giant neighbor to the north, espionage was not something that they could be expected to take lightly. Spies have been shot for lesser reasons.
But Mr. Lunt's tormentors did not shoot him, motivated as much by the fear of provoking the United States as by a desire to break the spirit of Mr. Lunt and parade him before world television cameras as an admitted mercenary for the imperialist Yankees.
Yet for all the savagery, psychological torture and unremitting pressure faced by Mr. Lunt, he never broke down or wavered in his faith in himself, his family or his country. Despite the absolute hopelessness of his situation, he maintained hope -- testimony to his indomitable inner strength. Mr. Lunt was not an innocent man. But his long imprisonment had as much to do with the tortured relationship between Cuba and the United States as it had to do with his actions. In 1979, Mr. Lunt was finally set free. His unconquerable will is the real story of his book. It is a precious story of spiritual survival, and it will captivate anyone.