Sometimes I unexpectedly come across a really entertaining book that is not only well written it's story storylineline just makes it such an easy read. I was rummaging around for something different and realized that I hadn’t read any autobiography for quite a while and then I read a review of Clarissa Ward’s, “On All Fronts: The Education of a Journalist.” I knew very little about this woman but was always intrigued with her reporting on TV and amazed at her command of so many languages (six I believe!). Her reports from Afghanistan during the US withdrawal were extraordinary.
As chief international correspondent for CNN, she has won an Emmy and two Peabody Awards. Having dual nationality with an American mother and an English father, but is based in London, her early education was in England. She later graduated from Yale with a degree in comparative literature. After watching the 9/11 attacks on TV, she found a “sense of purpose and clarity” and knew she “had to go to the front lines.” Becoming a journalist, she has moved from one hot zone to the next, with multiple assignments in Syria, Egypt, and Afghanistan, and has been based in Baghdad, Beirut, Beijing, and Moscow. From her early days in the field, she was embedded with Marines at the height of the Iraq War. But she really made her mark in war-torn Syria, which she has covered extensively with reports on Sixty Minutes. sharing her multiple stints entrenched with Syrian rebels, to her deep investigations into the Western extremists who are drawn to ISIS. Because of her empathy and language skills, she is able to connect with ordinary people and it is this I feel that makes her work so accessible. She even sings in a room in Syria to a group of women while an artillery raid is taking place.
It was enlightening to hear about the purely physical demands of the job, the extreme difficulties in just getting her reports out, and the constant lack of sleep. She conducted much of her reporting covertly and during combat and shares with us without regret how the physical and emotional tolls affected her, and she constantly ran the risk of “burning out amid one high-pressure trip after another.” Towards the end of the book, we learn how she takes a brief respite for marriage and the birth of a baby following a pregnancy that placed her at risk of contracting malaria in Bangladesh. Then she was back in the field in Afghanistan!
This really an insider view of what international reporting is all about and it is well worth the read. Hopefully, there will be a second volume to follow.