THE BOOK I AM READING
IN EXTREMIS - THE LIFE OF WAR CORRESPONDENT MARIE COLVIN
BY LINDSEY HILSUM
'It has always seemed to me that what I write is about humanity in extremis, pushed to the unendurable, and that it is important to tell people what really happens in wars.'
Marie Colvin wrote those words in 2001, the year she was injured in Sri Lanka, embedded with the Tamil Tigers. Although journalists were barred from entry, she crossed into the war zone to report on the plight of civilians. This same compulsion took her to the core of conflicts in the most dangerous places on earth, where she stopped at nothing to find out the truth. Not even losing the sight in her left eye, or PTSD, could keep her away for long.
Colvin courted danger, rushing at life with compassion and honesty, be it in her job, her love affairs, broken marriages, hard-drinking, or battling storms when sailing. Conflict spilled through in every aspect of her existence.
In one of her first stories for the London-based Sunday Times, she and photographer, Tom Stoddart, risked their lives to get into the Bourj al-Barajneh Refugee Camp in South Beirut, alerting the world to the plight of 15,000 Palestinian refugees besieged by the Shi'ite militia, Amal, backed by Syrian President Hafez al-Assad. Colvin's description and Stoddart's pictures of the killing of a young woman by Amal snipers as she ran to buy food for her family, led to the end of the 163-day siege.
Colvin's career is chequered with front line stories highlighting the human impact of political and military decisions. She gained access to world leaders, gaining the trust of Yasser Arafat and audiences with Muammar Gaddafi. Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan, Kosovo ... the list goes on ... wherever there was conflict, she was there. In Chechnya, escaping Russian bombardment, she trekked through the frozen Caucasus mountains for four days, blasted by snow and strong winds, before reaching safety in Georgia.
Using comments and stories mostly culled from family, friends, colleagues, and Colvin's own dispatches, fellow-correspondent Hilsum tells it as it was, from Colvin's childhood on Long Island, to her targeted death in 2012 in Homs, Syria, where the civilian population of Baba Amr was under constant daytime bombardment by the Bashar Assad regime. Colvin broadcast to the world the scale of human tragedy and of how the regime was attacking innocent citizens not terrorists. To silence her, the regime traced the broadcast to an unofficial Media Centre and blasted it with rockets, killing Colvin and Remi Ochlik (a young French photographer) and badly injuring Paul Conroy, the photographer who had accompanied Colvin.
Lindsey Hilsum does an excellent job portraying the complexities of Colvin's character and relationships which led her to attack life full on, whether in theatres of war or in her personal sphere. A well-written biography of a courageous woman.
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