Magazine article The Spectator

Casualties on the Home Front

Magazine article The Spectator

Casualties on the Home Front

Article excerpt

Ghosts By Daylight: A Memoir of War and Love

by Janine di Giovanni

Bloomsbury, ?6.99, pp. 271,

ISBN 9781408820513

War correspondents aren't like the rest of us: they can't be. Most of the writers I know sit at home all day eating biscuits and staring out of the window. But war correspondents are out there, risking life, limb and sanity, seeing things we can only imagine; and as well as a journalist's skills, they need a writer's soul, to turn what they see into something people simply have to read. No wonder we're so fascinated by them. Part of me would love to do a job like that. Fortunately the other 99 per cent of me, including the brain, knows better and keeps me indoors, safe from harm.

Janine di Giovanni has spent 20 years reporting wars for the Times, Vanity Fair and others, and while I think we are all grown up enough now not to be surprised by a woman doing the job, there's no doubt that a female perspective does offer something different.

She seems less interested in tactics, strategy or geopolitics than in people being maimed and killed and finding themselves in a hell rarely of their own making. 'I hate the sound of an AK-47. It's only the bad guys, the nonconventional armies, that use them. If you hear one, you are already too close.'

In among the carnage of the siege of Sarajevo, she meets Bruno, a charismatic French cameraman, complicated, brave, clearly bonkers, and they fall in love. But he won't leave his girlfriend - 'French men never do', her best friend tells her - so they split up and lose touch. If a film were made out of this, we would now have the 'passing of time' sequence, in which both principals walk through different war zones looking impossibly sad. Coincidence eventually brings them back together, as we knew it would:

Many years and a dozen wars between us passed. There were endless phone-calls, three miscarriages, much of what the French call malentendu, break-ups, a breakdown, and a lot of alcohol. There was depression, death, suicide of friends, addiction, and more times than I like to think when both of us nearly died.

It's all incredibly dramatic: we get the impression of a couple as addicted to their own narrative as to the wars they immerse themselves in. …

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