The East African - - BOOKS -

The Wash­ing­ton Post n a short as­sign­ment in Libya in 2011, I caught a glimpse of for­eign cor­re­spon­dent Marie Colvin at the Radis­son ho­tel in Tripoli. I no­ticed the black patch on her left eye first.

But there was some­thing more that made me pause. The pre­vi­ous month, rebels had seized the cap­i­tal from the forces of Libyan leader Muam­mar Gaddafi, and jour­nal­ists had turned the ho­tel into a kind of me­dia cen­tre. In that adren­a­line-charged at­mos­phere, Colvin seemed as if she be­longed there.

After three decades of re­port­ing on sev­eral ma­jor con­flicts — Afghanistan, the Mid­dle East, Iraq, Lebanon, Bos­nia, Sri Lanka, Libya, Chech­nya — Colvin was at home in war zones, but she knew there was a price to pay in phys­i­cal hard­ship and her personal re­la­tion­ships. Five months later, at age 56, she died in an ar­tillery at­tack in Homs, Syria — de­lib­er­ately tar­geted, her fam­ily and fel­low jour­nal­ists say, by the Syr­ian mil­i­tary.

In this mov­ing bi­og­ra­phy, Lindsey Hil­sum, in­ter­na­tional ed­i­tor for

in Bri­tain, cap­tures the clash­ing ex­tremes of Colvin's life — a dis­ci­plined jour­nal­ist who of­ten missed dead­lines; a woman of ex­tra­or­di­nary courage tor­tured by personal inse­cu­rity; a role model for as­pir­ing jour­nal­ists who, when the as­sign­ment was over, of­ten drank her­self into a stu­por.

Hil­sum, who has cov­ered wars and con­flicts in the Mid­dle East, the for­mer Soviet Union and Africa, has her own ex­pe­ri­ence in hot spots to give the book her per­fect pitch. "I knew [Colvin] in that easy way you know some­one with whom you share ad­ven­tures and the ex­hil­a­ra­tion of sur­vival," Hil­sum writes, "when the bomb goes off just after you leave, or hits the empty build­ing down the road, miss­ing you by a few yards or min­utes."

Hil­sum drew on a va­ri­ety of sources to cre­ate her por­trait: Colvin's ar­ti­cles for the

of Lon­don, e-mails, faxes, in­ter­views with her by other jour­nal­ists, books by other jour­nal­ists, her own in­ter­views with more than 100 peo­ple who knew or en­coun­tered Colvin, and more than 300 jour­nals Colvin kept from 1969, when she was 13, un­til Jan­uary 2012, a month be­fore she was killed.

Colvin was born in Queens and grew up in Oys­ter Bay, Long Is­land, one of five chil­dren. Her par­ents were so­cially con­scious and pro-

Otested the Viet­nam War. Her mother was trained as a teacher; her fa­ther, Bill, was a high school English teacher with an un­ful­filled dream of be­com­ing a jour­nal­ist. He died of can­cer at age 50. Colvin, then 21, was grief-stricken, but she had learned a les­son, she wrote in her jour­nal: "LIFE IS TOO SHORT."

"There's so much I wanted to show him — prove my­self to him," she wrote. "Some­how, he was and is still my stan­dard. I did ev­ery­thing to make him proud."

After serv­ing as UPI Paris bureau chief and then star cor­re­spon­dent for the Colvin re­flected: "It has al­ways seemed to me that what I write about is hu­man­ity ‘in ex­tremis,' pushed to the un­en­durable, and that it is im­por­tant to tell peo­ple what re­ally hap­pens in wars."

Colvin's personal life was a war zone as well. She was mar­ried twice and had sev­eral long-term af­fairs. She suf­fered mis­car­riages and never was able to have a child. Her mother once told one of Colvin's suit­ors, "My daugh­ter is

un­mar­riage­able." painfully chron­i­cles Colvin's spi­ral into de­pres­sion. She even­tu­ally was di­ag­nosed with post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der, and some treat­ment helped, but she was never treated for al­co­holism. As Hil­sum vividly ex­plains, "She could not un­see what she had seen." She was wounded in Sri Lanka, cov­er­ing the war of se­ces­sion by the Tamil Tigers. Her re­port in the

quoted in this book, de­picts that ter­ri­fy­ing mo­ment when a sol­dier opened fire straight at her: "We were run­ning through the last dark field for the line of jun­gle ahead when the si­lence was bro­ken by the thun­der of au­to­matic weapons fire about 100 yards to the right. I dived down and be­gan crawl­ing, belly on the ground, for some cover. For a few min­utes, some­one was crawl­ing on top of me — pro­tec­tion or panic, I don't know. Then I was alone, be­hind weeds . ... Bursts of gun­fire be­gan across the road about half a mile away. The search and de­stroy pa­trols had come out. I heard sol­diers on the road, talk­ing and laugh­ing. One fired a burst from an au­to­matic weapon that scythed down the weeds in front of me and left me cov­ered in green shoots. If I didn't yell now, they would stum­ble on me and shoot. I be­gan to shout 'Jour­nal­ist! Jour­nal­ist! Amer­i­can! USA!'"

The rebels opened fire with a rocket-pro­pelled grenade. A chest wound al­most killed Colvin, and shrap­nel hit her eye. The rebels rushed her to a lo­cal hospi­tal where doctors saved her life, but they could not save her eye.

Read­ing this book is painful. I thought about her and about other war cor­re­spon­dents with whom I've worked. At the end of my brief as­sign­ments, I al­ways went home. For them, some­thing kept pulling them back.

Colvin saw it clearly: "War re­port­ing is still es­sen­tially the same — some­one has to go there and see what is hap­pen­ing. You can't get that in­for­ma­tion with­out go­ing to places where peo­ple are be­ing shot at, and oth­ers are shoot­ing at you. The real dif­fi­culty is hav­ing enough faith in hu­man­ity to be­lieve that enough peo­ple ... will care when your file reaches the printed page, the web­site or the TV screen. We do have that faith be­cause we be­lieve we do make a dif­fer­ence."

Pic­ture: Wash­ing­ton Post

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Kenya

© PressReader. All rights reserved.