Ghosts by Daylight: Love, War, and Redemption

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9780307265586: Ghosts by Daylight: Love, War, and Redemption

An enthralling, deeply moving memoir from one of our foremost American war correspondents.

Janine di Giovanni has spent most of her career—more than twenty years—in war zones recording events on behalf of the voiceless. From Sarajevo to East Timor, from Sierra Leone to Afghanistan, Iraq, and Somalia, she has been under siege and under fire.

Along the way she meets Bruno, a French reporter whose spirit and audacity are a match for her own. Their love affair spans nearly a decade and a dozen armed conflicts before they settle in Paris to raise a family. But Janine soon learns that a life lived in war is inevitably haunted. Bruno struggles with physical and emotional pain, and Janine, a new mother and wife in Paris, is afraid both for Bruno and herself and for the work that they do—and doubtful that she can hold their lives together.

With stunning scenes of action, heart-wrenching accounts of profound love, personal loss, and redemption, Ghosts by Daylight tells the unforgettable story of a passionate life lived to the fullest.

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About the Author:

Janine Di Giovanni has won four major journalistic awards, including the National Magazine Award, and is a contributing editor to Vanity Fair. She writes for the British, American, and French press, and has reported from Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel, Algeria, Gaza, the West Bank, Zimbabwe, Rwanda, Pakistan, East Timor, Ivory Coast, Bosnia, Kosovo, Liberia, Somalia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone.
She is the author of Madness Visible, The Quick and the Dead, The Place at the End of the World, and of the introduction to the international best seller Zlata’s Diary: A Child’s Life in Sarajevo. Two documentaries have been made about her life and work. In 2010, she was the president of the jury of the Prix Bayeux-Calvados for War Correspondents. She lives in Paris.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Part One

In his sorrow he found one source of relief in war

Tacitus, Agricola

chapter 1

Beginnings

We arrived in Paris in rainy January, the first week of the new year, shuffling our feet like little soldiers retreating from battle. The moving boxes and crates had followed us from places where there really was war: the Ivory Coast, Iraq, Sarajevo and Afghanistan, and were filled with remnants of the life that both of us were trying to leave behind.

The boxes were tall and foreboding. Mine were cardboard from an overpriced shipping agency in London. The movers came to my Notting Hill flat one afternoon and wrapped my entire London life in plastic and paper, nearly twenty years of it sealed away in boxes. They packed everything, even lipstick-stained cigarettes left behind in ashtrays from a dinner party the night before.

Bruno’s crates were more solid. They were wooden and imposing and came by ship from Abidjan. Together, our combined possessions lined the dining room of our rented apartment on the Right Bank, so there was no room to walk around unless you shimmied between them. Unpacking them seemed a distant chore, impossible, something that would happen far away in the future.

Inside my boxes were pots and pans with burn marks from omelettes that were left unattended for too long; velvet dresses worn once or twice at a forgotten London fancy- dress party; down-filled coats and sleeping bags still lightly coated in dust. There were hiking boots with red mud from Afghanistan; my mother’s delicate china tea set; my black-and-white photographs from Africa and the Middle East and the Balkans. There were pieces of a disassembled wooden Shaker-style chair I had bought with a previous boyfriend, ready to be reassembled in Paris, and piles of old, worn linen sheets bought in Ireland and Rome. There were towels and dishes, pie plates with bits of burnt pastry still left on them and hundreds of books.

I had left the flat where I had lived for a dozen years empty except for the bed. That was staying behind; I could not bear to bring it to my new life. I had inherited it from an Irish girl, a banker, who had fled to Dublin with a broken heart, and it seemed time to pass it on again, this time to the blonde German lodger, a solemn psychoanalyst, who was renting my flat.

Also inside the boxes were things that would only make sense to me. Painful stiletto heels which were bought in New York on a whim and worn only once; an ashtray stolen from a hotel in Algeria; some bits of metal shrapnel twisted like an odd sculpture; a packet of love letters—some of them faxes, faded with time—tied with a pale pink ribbon; and two flak jackets with Kevlar inserts to protect the chest and groin and shoulders from bullet wounds.

There were also two helmets with my blood group taped on the front and carefully marked in indelible ink; a nylon bag of medical supplies; packets of the antibiotic Cipro­floxacin; a buddy injection of a liquid opiate that I had stolen from a miserable red-headed American soldier before leaving Kuwait for Basra. There was a satellite telephone and two digital cameras that I had never learned how to use, still in their boxes with the instructions. There was a waxy chemical weapon suit, wrapped in plastic and tied with elastics; an unused gas mask; and maps of Baghdad circled in red at strategic points.

There were eighteen black covered notebooks scribbled with names like Ali and Bassam and Mona and Ahmed—names of people I had interviewed in what seemed like another lifetime, and my canvas boots, still full of sands from the western desert in Iraq.

Bruno’s packing cases were more exotic than mine. His boxes were filled with things Claude Lévi-Strauss might have collected during his long and lonely voyages. There were bits of woven fabric in equatorial colours; long, feathered arrows from Brazil; black-and-white shimaghs from the Middle East; pink-and-white shells from the beaches near Grand-Bassam, outside of Abidjan; green and red and black beads from Mali; a dried-out starfish that still smelled of the sea; teak tables and mirrors with ivory inlays; brass trunks; a heavy white blanket from Ethiopia; and ancient Buddha heads from Afghanistan and Burma. He had a long cloak from the Tuaregs in the Sahara, and he knew how to wrap it so that he looked, as he put it, like a man from the desert.

There were six brass cups from somewhere in Central Asia. There were lapis lazuli necklaces from Iraq and prayer rugs from Kurdistan. There was a metal box full of photographs which he kept secret. There was his name written in Greek on a gold plate which an old girlfriend, a lawyer, had made for him. And there were rugs from a trip to Afghanistan where we had both met by chance and then dramatically split up, for absolutely the last time, I had thought. We were slowly, and with great tentativeness, lifting our old lives from the boxes and trying to make room for them in this new and frightening life.

Bruno looked the same as he did when I first met him, many years before, in the hotel lobby of the Holiday Inn in Sarajevo. It was in another lifetime, and it was strange, how we met, how two people, two lives collided full force with as much impact as a donkey kick. And because of that chance collision, another life was made, a child was born, and our cycle went on. “Now you both are immortal,” someone told him the day our son was born. At the time, still bleary from drugs and pain, and the shock of holding another life in my hands, I did not understand the words. Now I do.

The lobby of the wartime Holiday Inn was an ugly, cavernous space that opened up to the hallways of the eight floors. It was freezing in winter, scorching in summer, and got shelled and shot at on a regular basis. It was positioned in one of the most dangerous front lines of the city, a place we called Sniper’s Alley. Journalists, penned up for months and months and growing bored, used to abseil with rope from the top to the bottom of the lobby. There were long periods without water, electricity and heating in the winter, and one season we had to drop red tablets into the water for fear of a cholera epidemic. The food, one of my colleagues once remarked, was worse than his grandfather ate in Auschwitz. We subsidized it with expensive black-market luxuries, or packages of chocolate picked up at the last minute in Zagreb Airport before boarding the United Nations flight that dropped us in Sarajevo for months and months and months.

In the summer of 1993, the second year of the war, Bruno and I arrived from our respective homes in Paris and London to report on the longest-running siege in modern history. He was a cameraman for the main French channel, France 2, and I worked for a major British newspaper. We were young, easily impressed, very green and young enough to have real passion for what we believed in. I believed then, as I sometimes do now, that occasionally what you write or photograph or film can reach someone somewhere, and make some kind of difference. But I did it with more fire in those days.

I had been in Sarajevo since the previous December, but it was Bruno’s first time. He saw me, he said, from a mezzanine, which was suspended between the first and second floors. There was a piano on that level, hidden in a corner near the bombed-out side of the building where we were not meant to go because it was particularly visible to the snipers, and sometimes I heard an Italian journalist called Renzo playing ghostly tunes—Schubert, or jazz, which sounded alien, coming, as it seemed, from nowhere.

In those days, we would try to go to the daily press briefing at the UN complex in the old Post Telephone and Telegraph building on Sniper’s Alley. If you had an armoured car, the journey was fine and took about seven minutes. If you did not, it was nerve-wracking: stuffed into the back seat of a VW Rabbit with your fellow hacks wearing flak jackets and laden with bags stuffed with computers and cameras, hoping a stray shot would not pierce the metal of the car. In those days, I remembered with frightening clarity the prayers the nuns had taught us when I was small: a slender white book I had forgotten, embossed with gold; prayers about seeking forgiveness before death.

The briefing was at 9 a.m. sharp and I was not a morning person. I usually woke, drank a watery coffee served in a makeshift dining room, grabbed a piece of hard bread and ambushed a television journalist—they always had armoured cars—to beg them into giving me a ride. CNN’s truck was always full, and they had the reputation of not helping anyone but their own. The BBC people, however, were more generous, and they usually waved me into the back of their truck. “Get in, hurry up.” The back of the car smelled of gasoline from the stores of petrol in tin cans.

The morning I met Bruno was sometime in August. It was hot, but the clouds in Sarajevo lay low and grey, and gave the impression of an autumn rather than a high summer day. After breakfast, I found Jeremy, a fellow journalist, who was kind and funny and who said there was no rush. “Drink your coffee,” he said, “then we’ll go.” We drank the coffee—bitter, black and without sugar—and Jeremy looked at his watch. We grabbed the flak jackets, which accompanied us everywhere. I swung mine over my shoulder, bearing the weight on my right side, and wincing slightly at the pain in my right collarbone, which I had broken twice already. We were headed through the lobby, towards the stairwell that took us to the underground parking lot. Once you got to a car, you strapped in and raced out of the car park as fast as lightning because the entrance lay right in view of the Serbian snipers.

But before we reached the stairwell, someone passed us, clearly in a hurry. I bent to tie my shoelace, then stood up, and saw something out of the corner of my eye. A strange and beautiful man had dropped to his knees in front of me. Both Jeremy and I stopped short. The man held a large camera on his shoulder and was saying something in French—or perhaps in French-accented English—we could not hear because he was whispering. I stared, and Jeremy stared, and the man was also staring, intensely, at me. Eventually, I made out his words: “Don’t ever look at me like that!” he said dramatically. He was laughing.

It was a strange moment, one that would ultimately change the entire course of my life. I looked down at this person on his knees. He was slender, almost Asiatic looking, wearing baggy combat trousers and a T-shirt. His boots were highly polished. He had a beautiful, wide smile. He was flirting, and laughing at my reaction. He picked himself up and stood in front of me. He looked directly into my eyes: his were green and unflinching. There was not much for me to do but smile back, weakly, and then turn, embarrassed, and keep walking towards the door.

Jeremy said, “There are cameramen, and there are cameramen. And then there are French cameramen.” Then Jeremy took my arm rather protectively and we walked to the stairway, leaving the Frenchman—Bruno—still standing there.

I have asked Bruno so many times why he did that, why he fell on his knees, unembarrassed, unencumbered and nimble—and he has always shrugged, or muttered something, never giving me an answer, only sometimes quoting Montaigne about not wanting to know why you loved a certain woman, and if you knew the answer to it, you would love her no more. I asked him for years and years, but I never did find out.

I did not see Bruno again for what seemed like a very long time. I did not see him in the dining room where the reporters gathered to eat humanitarian-aid rice and cheese twice a day, and drink wine from the cave that was left over from the siege. I did not see him during the days as I worked alone with my driver, Dragan, and we moved amongst the buildings where I preferred to do my work in the city—the psychiatric unit of Kosevo Hospital, the morgue where I counted the dead, the presidency building where I went to see the vice president, and the orphanage where I went to hold the babies that nobody wanted.

Every Saturday was my deadline at the Sunday newspaper for which I worked, and I wrote in my dreary orange-tinted room with the plastic-covered windows—the glass was blown out during a mortar attack—and then went downstairs to eat my rice and cheese alone. I worked until 5 p.m., and then went to the Reuters office to file my copy by satellite phone at a cost of $50 a minute, knowing that an editor in London would pare it down and pare it down till nothing was left of it but eight hundred words. At night, I slept on top of my sleeping bag—it was too hot to get inside—and listened to the sound of fighting from the open window. Sometimes, if it was loud enough, it woke me from my dreams.

Once I saw him standing in the mezzanine. He whistled loudly and said something in Spanish. “Señorita!”

“I’m not Spanish,” I said. I had decided that I would flirt back.

“But your dress is.”

In fact, it was a housedress that had been bought in a marketplace in Split, on the Croatian coastline, for $5 during a rare break a few weeks before. It came to my knees and had virtually no sex appeal, but in a place like Sarajevo, it stood out.

“You look like a flamenco dancer,” he said, leaning over the balcony. And then: “When can we spend time together?”

“I don’t know. I’m leaving for Central Bosnia,” I replied.

“We’ll see each other,” he said. It was more of a statement than a request. Then he was gone.

One Sunday in the middle of August, some weeks after I met him, a time when the rest of the world seemed to be at a beach and no one cared at all about a siege in the middle of the Balkans in a city whose name they could not pronounce, I woke at dawn to a knock on my door.

I wore my cotton nightgown, and I covered myself as I opened the door a crack. It was a Bosnian kid in a soldier’s uniform, smoking, with a message from a commander written on a piece of paper. The teenage soldier spoke no English but made a motion for me to follow him. I knew what he was doing. I had been waiting for this message for weeks. I dressed, brushed my teeth with a bottle of mineral water, and ran up a flight of stairs to wake my friend, Ariane.

Ariane was my best friend in Bosnia. Tiny, fluent in three languages, the daughter of a French fighter pilot and a Franco-Argentine mother, she was a champion skier and rock climber. She was curvy, green eyed, and her mouth was generous. She was sexy and smart, and said what she thought, a little too loudly sometimes. She was bossy, and irritated me often. But she was frightened of no man, no woman and no thing. Inside her tiny frame was a very big heart. In time, she became my dearest friend in that city, and much later, as the years went by, we grew older together in Paris. She was the first person to visit me in the hospital when my son was born. Back then, she was in love with a tall French colonel, a UN peacekeeper, and I was having an affair with his friend, a captain from Brittany.

Love in those days was so very easy. It was the last time in my life I would love someone so lightly, without any repercussions, guilt, drama or desperation when the time came to leave. Everything about falling in love during wartime, perhaps because our exterior world was so chaotic, was so effortless. It was almost adolescent in its lack of complication. The four of us—the three French and me—would sit around late at night watching the flares and drinking whisky. The soldiers liked to be away from the confines of the United Nations base whenever they got the chance, and they brought us gifts: ready-to-eat meal packets which included small bottles of...

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Descrizione libro Alfred A. Knopf, United States, 2011. Hardback. Condizione libro: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. An enthralling, deeply moving memoir from one of our foremost American war correspondents. Janine di Giovanni has spent most of her career--more than twenty years--in war zones recording events on behalf of the voiceless. From Sarajevo to East Timor, from Sierra Leone to Afghanistan, Iraq, and Somalia, she has been under siege and under fire. Along the way she meets Bruno, a French reporter whose spirit and audacity are a match for her own. Their love affair spans nearly a decade and a dozen armed conflicts before they settle in Paris to raise a family. But Janine soon learns that a life lived in war is inevitably haunted. Bruno struggles with physical and emotional pain, and Janine, a new mother and wife in Paris, is afraid both for Bruno and herself and for the work that they do--and doubtful that she can hold their lives together. With stunning scenes of action, heart-wrenching accounts of profound love, personal loss, and redemption, Ghosts by Daylight tells the unforgettable story of a passionate life lived to the fullest. Codice libro della libreria FLT9780307265586

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Descrizione libro Alfred A. Knopf, United States, 2011. Hardback. Condizione libro: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. An enthralling, deeply moving memoir from one of our foremost American war correspondents. Janine di Giovanni has spent most of her career--more than twenty years--in war zones recording events on behalf of the voiceless. From Sarajevo to East Timor, from Sierra Leone to Afghanistan, Iraq, and Somalia, she has been under siege and under fire. Along the way she meets Bruno, a French reporter whose spirit and audacity are a match for her own. Their love affair spans nearly a decade and a dozen armed conflicts before they settle in Paris to raise a family. But Janine soon learns that a life lived in war is inevitably haunted. Bruno struggles with physical and emotional pain, and Janine, a new mother and wife in Paris, is afraid both for Bruno and herself and for the work that they do--and doubtful that she can hold their lives together. With stunning scenes of action, heart-wrenching accounts of profound love, personal loss, and redemption, Ghosts by Daylight tells the unforgettable story of a passionate life lived to the fullest. Codice libro della libreria FLT9780307265586

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