Until I read Janine Di Giovanni’s Ghosts By Daylight: Love, War and Redemption, I never considered the emotional toll journalists endure to bring us stories from the world’s conflict zones. It turns out that giving a voice to the voiceless, as Di Giovanni calls her work, carries a heavy price.
A veteran journalist who currently serves as Middle East editor at Newsweek, Di Giovanni routinely shares first person accounts of wartime suffering and violence that are often difficult to read. After reading her memoir I believe she would say that if she didn’t include details of the abuse the powerful inflict on the powerless, she wouldn’t be doing her job. If you’re hesitant to read about how humans torment other humans in wartime, be assured that Ghosts by Daylight is less about the atrocities of war than it is about how journalists cope with having witnessed them.
In her memoir, Di Giovanni describes her decision in her early 40s to leave her life in war zones behind, at least for awhile, to start a family in Paris with a French war photographer and love of her life. While one would expect her to experience relief at finally getting out of the insecurity of war and into a comfortable Parisian life, the reality is that human beings, like the conflicts we create with each other, are much more complicated. From her apartment in one of Paris’s quietest districts, she describes hoarding food, water, antibiotics and drafting an evacuation plan in case the city was ever under siege. When recounting her actions, she recalls that she never worried about being able to take care of herself, but the idea of being responsible for her infant son in a situation like the ones she has seen in the field gave her overwhelming anxiety. Di Giovanni never felt afraid when she was dodging snipers in Sarajevo or negotiating with drugged and armed child soldiers in Cote d’Ivoire. Instead the realities and responsibilities of parenthood triggered the debilitating terror for which she had never gotten treatment.
Di Giovanni cites the disproportionate number of war correspondents who experience depression, substance abuse and suicide, all suggestive of untreated PTSD. Whether symptoms strike at the work site or after returning home, the consequences can be deadly. She describes PTSD manifesting itself in reckless behavior, like her colleague who had once driven around Sniper Alley in Sarajevo with his car spray painted: Don’t waste your bullets; I am immortal. Attributing her actions to the overconfidence of the survivor, she once argued with a soldier who had a weapon pointed at her heart to let her companion, a rebel who was surely to be executed, go free. After years of running into dangerous situations and not knowing where she would sleep each night, she came home to find that the danger she had evaded in the field felt as close and menacing as ever.
War correspondents make a career of helping us understand what it’s like to live in the absence of safety. Janine Di Giovanni’s memoir of living with PTSD offers a glimpse of how journalists experience that insecurity long after their assignment is over.
I first encountered Janine Di Giovanni’s work in Best American Travel Writing 2014. Her essay on covering the Bosnian War was so engrossing that I pursued her other works, including a piece about Syria in Best American Nonrequired Reading 2014. To find her thought-provoking and candid coverage of conflict zones all over the world, search for her name in the library’s EbscoHost Academic Search Complete database.
Her new book, Seven Days in Syria, is due out this summer.
Formats Available: Book (Regular Print)
Reviewed by Valerie, Iroquois Branch