“Love in a time of war” … My years with Robert Fisk

Janine Di Giovanni – (Foreign Policy) 2/1/2022
Translation: Aladdin Abu Zina

Iconic reporters such as Fisk and the Polish reporter Ryszard Kapusinski – who traversed Africa, Central America and the former Soviet Union with little more than a backpack and lots of guts – do not occur frequently, and the chances that they will follow in their footsteps , becomes less.

Now, quick fixes and analyzes while the journalist sits in an armchair have replaced long stories written deep and off the floor …

“Covid 19” may have been the last nail in the coffin of the traveling journalist, but even before the pandemic, the risks of kidnapping, imprisonment and murder made the life of a war reporter more dangerous …

In her fascinating new book, journalist Lara Marlowe tells an impossible love story against the backdrop of war and journalism.
book card:
Love in a Time of War: My Years With Robert Fisk, Lara Marlowe, Head of Zeus, 448 pp, October 2021

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As readers of Ernest Hemingway know, war can be a powerful tonic for sensual passions and desires. In her book “Love in Wartime: My Years with Robert Fisk,” Lara Marlowe, a French-American foreign correspondent, recounts the autobiographies of two reporters and their strong and stormy love affair against the backdrop of the brutal and dangerous war.

Their love story spans decades and traverses the Middle East and the Balkans, while the two report back, reason and love – in short, live to the edge; They drink, write and meet warlords against the backdrop of battles in the front lines – when they are not on a break in Paris or Dublin.

The couple were part of a newspaper tribe called the “Firefighters”, when media organizations send their journalists a notice at any moment instructing them to cover a hot spot.

In a sense, the book is two things in one: notes on Marlowe’s journalistic career; A moving tribute to a man she loved and put off.

Fisk, who died in 2020, was a lofty icon for British journalism.

He often told Marlowe, “You can not get close to the truth without being there.” He was cheerful, arrogant, eloquent, with a lot of writing prizes, and he was also mercurial and complex.

While working as a correspondent for The Times of London, and later the Independent, he reported on the wars in Northern Ireland, Lebanon, Iraq, Iran, Bosnia, Afghanistan and the Palestinian territories.

His first major story was a series that examined the record of the then Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kurt Waldheim, as a Nazi officer during World War II.

Later, Fisk was one of the few Western journalists who interviewed Osama bin Laden.

As an Arabic-speaking and passionate writer, Fisk wrote front-page articles.

. And he gained a large number of followers: fans told his stories from the pages of newspapers and wrote sincere love letters to him.

He could see with a keen eye the suffering of Palestinians during the massacre of the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps (which Marlowe considered the “decisive moment” of his career), or the suffering of Bosnian civilians during the Balkan wars. depicting as he accompanies. it with a sobering analysis.

In subsequent years, Fisk damaged his reputation by sympathizing with Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad.

During that country’s brutal civil war, Fisk merged with the man’s army and became a proponent of his atrocities.

Fisk’s legend, however, will descend into journalistic history, albeit for nothing, at least through Marlowe’s book.

Every reporter who lived in the golden age of foreign journalism (who wrote for the newspaper from abroad) knew someone like Fisk – a brilliant storyteller with the ability to write quickly and beautifully.

But Marlowe’s description of this journalistic model is much more romantic.

Marlowe was not just that background partner.

When they met in Damascus in 1983, she was a reporter for CBS; She speaks fluent French and covers Syria during the reign of Hafez al-Assad. She was overwhelmed by his grace.

From the besieged Sarajevo, Fisk writes to her: “My loving, brave and beautiful darling.”

His letters were verses of passion: he called her his angel, his beauty, his love. And it’s easy to see why Marlowe fell in love so much.

She left her first husband and the U.S. Foreign Service to join Fisk in Beirut at the height of the Lebanese Civil War.

She struggled to sustain herself as a freelance writer, while Fisk, then well-established as a reporter, enjoyed the convenience of a full, stuffed bank account.

She also struggled to get where she wanted to be as a reporter, and it was not an easy search with a partner of a giant ego like Fisk.

Marlowe wrote of their early years: “If there is a shadow over our happiness, it is the professional frustration that hangs over us like a simple disease.”

She first worked for Time magazine and eventually became an editor of the Irish Times, a position she still holds today, winning her own awards and finding her own place in highly respected journalism.

Her work, which exposed French atrocities during the Algerian war, marked a new beginning, and she continued to work incessantly, writing from Somalia, Sudan, Bosnia and Kosovo – and from where there was conflict and unprecedented suffering.

And Marlowe does not say that, but I will: to be a woman, and to work with hyper-charismatic men like Fisk, in a highly masculine environment like war is no easy feat.

And like all the best passion-fueled love stories, romance is doomed to fall apart. There are romantic relationships on both sides.

One heartbreaking story is about Fisk who, along with an attractive French photographer, enters the Saudi desert who later comes to eat at Marlowe and Fisk’s house and cheerfully writes in the guestbook: “Robert, you really ‘did’ it with me, and you, Lara, you are the woman in the middle of it. ”

It was vague, but Marlowe suspected the worst.

Despite this adversity, they finally got married in 1997, many years after their love story began. One wonders why it took so long, but Fisk described those living and working in war-torn countries as “invisibly disfigured”.

This is an appropriate description of personal demons and special obstacles.

Pain, doubt and arguments are followed by roses and more romance.

But it does not hold. In the year 2000, Fisky returns from a trip to Pakistan and meets Marlowe at a favorite restaurant in Paris.

Just when he sees his cute situation, Marlowe immediately concludes, “He’s in love with someone, and it’s not me.”

She describes Marlowe in a crazy way that Fisk refused to forgive her for an affair many years ago, even while he was in it.

He now even insists that Marlowe be friends with the other woman.

Marlowe quotes the great French writer Louis Aragon: “There is no happy love.” And when that love finally breaks, Marlowe’s heart breaks too, but she remains tender and firm.

Fisk continues to marry the other woman, but the two continue to work together, especially during and after the fall of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

Their last meeting was, coincidentally and poignantly, at Dublin Airport, and both were on their way back from Paris.

And there the weight of their years comes together quickly. Marlowe quoted Aragon earlier in the book, saying, “I carry you within me like a wounded bird.”

This was the last time she saw Fisk alive.

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In many ways, Love in Wartime also bears witness to a type of journalism that no longer exists: the journalism of a free foreign correspondent who goes to war zones with a few hundred dollars and a notebook.

Despite the grim reality they described, they loved their subjects and their work. “Pretend you’re writing to a friend,” Fisk coached Marlowe early on. “Journalism is fun”.

Iconic reporters such as Fisk and Polish reporter Ryszard Kapusinski – who traversed Africa, Central America and the former Soviet Union with little more than a backpack and many guts – are far apart, and the chances of them following in their footsteps are slim. al manner.

Now, quick recordings and analysis in an armchair have replaced long stories written in depth and from the scene.

Marlowe’s book describes an ancient world almost lost to journalism on Earth: “Be a camera, be a machine … just write,” Marlowe said to herself as she worked on the most gruesome messages. My notebook and my pen are lifebuoys in the swamp of pain and death. “
“Covid-19” was perhaps the last nail in the coffin of the traveling journalist.

But even before the pandemic, the risks of kidnapping, imprisonment and murder made the life of a war correspondent all the more dangerous. Last year, the Committee for the Protection of Journalists published its annual report with a grim message: More journalists are being arrested for their work than ever before. By December 1, 2021, 24 journalists had been killed.

“Love in a Time of War” is a beautiful book, which tells the story of two people whose relationship and careers shaped journalism in another era. It is full of pain and longing, but also joy, adventure and excitement.

Because I myself experienced my own personal love in wartime, I understand Marlowe’s conclusion: the life we ​​live in its extreme is the most self-rewarding kind of life.

* Janine di Giovanni: Foreign Policy columnist, senior fellow at Yale University’s Jackson Institute for Global Affairs, award-winning journalist, and author of The Vanishing: Faith, Loss, and the Twilight of Christianity in the Land of the Prophets.
* This article was published under the title: Love in a Time of War

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