Nonfiction — In Extremis

In Extremis: The Life and Death of War Correspondent Marie Colvin  by Lindsey Hilsum

5 out of 5 Stars!

From the Goodreads synopsis:
…Written by fellow foreign correspondent Lindsey Hilsum, this is the story of the most daring war reporter of her age. Drawing on unpublished diaries and notebooks, and interviews with Marie’s friends, family and colleagues, In Extremis is the story of our turbulent age, and the life of a woman who defied convention.

I’ll put this out here now:  I had never heard of Marie Colvin before finding this book at a second-hand store.  Or, maybe more correctly, I had never associated the random stories I vaguely remember from a female reporter in the Middle East in the 1990s and 2000s as being Marie Colvin.  And I truly feel I lost out by not knowing her…Damn.

I’ll also admit that when I saw the author was a friend and fellow correspondent, I resigned myself to  the usual “friend” take on her life: in other words, highly biased and limited to what the author knew on a personal level.  Thankfully, totally  not the case here.  Hilsum uses her intrepid interviewing skills to talk to friends, family, and cohorts of Marie, as well as extensive usage of Colvin’s personal diaries and journals to piece together the complicated life of a very complicated woman.

Marie Colvin gained notoriety by being tenacious, not letting a story go that she felt the public needed to know about.  This would lead her to remote outposts in war-torn countries that most Americans have either not heard about or didn’t care about.  She was considered a “friend” of leaders like Muammar Gaddafi and Yasser Arafat.  She was blunt and succinct in reporting the devastation dealt to the innocent, be it from allies or enemies, in war-torn areas like Sri Lanka, Chechnya, and Syria .  She wanted to report the stories at any cost, to show the real faces suffering in these wars, and with that she succeeded, but at high costs.

Underneath this seemingly tough and world-weary  exterior was a woman plagued by self-doubt, even self-hatred.  We see in her own words through her journals the collapse of her relationships , her obsession with her weight , her denial of alcoholism, even her descent into depression and other issues due to PTSD after the incident that cost her her eye.   We learn of her love for her true friends, her family, and her need for belonging in her loved ones’ worlds she felt that she didn’t really belong in (at times I truly felt the heartbreak).

But we also see Marie’s continuing determination and strength, strength that at times seemed  to come out of nowhere but pushed her to the extremes she followed to her final days.

As I read this, I found myself creating and truly believing in a hero with Marie Colvin, a woman I  had never heard of before.  I admire her strength and resilience, and at the same time I can empathize and understand the constant self-hatred and the battle with  inner demons.  I truly could picture myself doing shots of whisky with Marie in some random dive bar in the middle of nowhere.  I think we would have got along splendidly.

I can’t say much more than this—read this book.  The best biography I’ve read in years.

I hope you all are staying safe and healthy in these trying times.  This year has been stressful for all of us to say the least.  Thankfully I can always find solace in books, be it fiction or non-, and I hope you all are able to do the same.  Take care of yourselves and each other, and as always, Happy Reading!!   Much love to you all!




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