Collateral Damage ; Daniel Pearl's Widow Traces His Career, His Murder

By McAlpin, Heller | The Christian Science Monitor, October 2, 2003 | Go to article overview

Collateral Damage ; Daniel Pearl's Widow Traces His Career, His Murder


McAlpin, Heller, The Christian Science Monitor


When Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl was kidnapped in Karachi, Pakistan, in January, 2002, Americans were reeling from 9/ 11. They were also ravenous for information about portions of the globe that previously hadn't crossed their radar. Pearl, the Journal's South Asia bureau chief, was trying to figure out who was behind events in a region rampant with virulent anti-American sentiment.

In his wife's words, Daniel Pearl felt he could "change the world by changing the way people think about one another." He was an idealist who sought truth and disparaged sensationalism. Raised in California, he was 38 years old, handsome, charming, and a talented musician who rarely traveled without his mandolin or his Dutch- Cuban-French wife, also a journalist. Although in her sixth month of pregnancy with their first child, Mariane Pearl, a reporter for French television and radio, was with him in Karachi.

But, as Ms. Pearl writes in this passionate, heartbreaking memoir, "I think about how easy it is to reduce this story to a simple tale: handsome hostage husband, pregnant despairing wife.... While simplification of complex events may seem harmless, it isn't."

During her ordeal, she manages to convince Pakistani investigators to cooperate not just with her, but with the FBI. She resists crying on television and "feeding some real-life drama- hungry viewer back home." Similarly, she chastises CNN's Chris Burns in French when he tactlessly asks whether she's seen the appalling video of her husband's decapitation, something she refuses to watch.

Months later, back in Paris, she rails against CBS for airing fragments of the grue- some footage, angrily pointing out that the terrorists made a video because they "knew all along you'd be ratings-hungry enough to broadcast it. They appealed to your instinct, and you gave in."

Mariane Pearl is spirited and refreshingly feisty. "A Mighty Heart," a title that might play better in French, is written for Daniel and their son and in defiance of the terrorists who killed her husband. She and coauthor Sarah Crichton know how to structure a compelling story. Her book reads like a tensely plotted thriller. We find ourselves hoping against hope that things will turn out differently.

Writing in the present tense, she takes us back to January, 23, 2002, when she wakes with her husband sweetly curled around her pregnant body. In her telling, Daniel comes alive as "charmingly goofy," with his propensity towards list-making and scattering his possessions wherever he lands. She writes of their shared idealism and their disparate bloodlines - Daniel's Iraqi Jewish mother and Israeli-born father, her own Dutch-Jewish father and Cuban-black- Hispanic-Chinese mother - the sum of which makes their son Adam genuinely a citizen of the world. …

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Collateral Damage ; Daniel Pearl's Widow Traces His Career, His Murder
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