Janine di Giovanni analyses her life


May 14, 2001


I was born in the US, after lunch on a Friday, the seventh child of an Italian American mother and Italian father. It was a loving but utterly chaotic family. I did not realise until I was 13 that I was American. My favourite sibling was my sister Judith, 18 years my senior. I often thought she was my mother. I learnt so much from her. I started writing because I lived so much in my own mind. When I applied to the Iowa writers' workshop, people said I was too young and would never get in. "I'll show you," I thought. It has been the mantra of my life. I became a journalist by default; writing was too lonely. I became a war correspondent because I met a human rights lawyer in Israel in 1987 who convinced me that I had an obligation to report on injustice. I fought against many obstacles to cover the Bosnian war. Looking back, those years are the most important of my life, professionally and personally. I went on to cover conflicts in Rwanda, Zaire, Zimbabwe, Sierra Leone, Vietnam, East Timor, Chechnya and place s I think I've blanked out. I love my life. When I was young, I used to tell people I wanted to live, to have a really big life. I think I have what I asked for.



Janine di Giovanni


Watching from the shadows
(Filed: 19/01/2004)

Aidan Hartley reviews Madness Visible: a Memoir of War by Janine di Giovanni


At the end of this moving book by one of our generation's finest foreign correspondents, Janine di Giovanni quotes Martha Gellhorn, "who once said, speaking of the Spanish Civil War, that it was only possible to love one war. The rest becomes duty." It is a sentiment that applies to the author, only in her case the one conflict was in truth at least three: Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo. Di Giovanni was among the insanely courageous band of reporters who cut their teeth in the Balkans. Some of them died, or burned out along the way, but she sat it out from the beginning to the end of the madness, if indeed it is over.



Janine di Giovanni


Di Giovanni is rarely out of the line of fire, whether being bombed by Nato aeroplanes in a Kosovo trench or going down Sarajevo's "sniper ally". Yet her descriptive talents are at their best when her eye comes to rest on the plight of civilians. Some of the stories are so tragic that they are hard to get through. Don't read this book for its analysis of Balkan politics, which you can get elsewhere, but for its very humane portrait of fighters, refugees and victims.

There is no conventional narrative here; it's more a succession of tense, sad vignettes knitted together as the author remembers them. Her encounters are so affecting often because they are so mundane, that is until a mortar bomb comes slamming into the café, or a ghastly rape occurs. She also provides excellent sketches of the inmates who seized control of the Balkan mental asylum – such as Nikola Koljevic, the Shakespearan scholar-turned-destroyer of Sarajevo, or Biljana Plavsic, the former Bosnian Serb president who believed Muslims to be "genetically deformed".

By turns she lambasts each of the Balkan tribes, then mourns their appalling treatment at the hands of their enemies. She is critical in good measure, I would say, of everybody except the Bosnian Muslims. Yet there were and are no good guys in the Balkans. And that the latest wars happened in the 1990s, the decade of "conflict resolution", seems to have caused even more ghastly and protracted bloodletting. Wars historically produced conquerors and losers. In the age of conflict resolution you had half-war, or what became known as "complex emergencies" – essentially death by bullets, but also hunger, disease and social collapse – and in the end the half-peace of Dayton and the current trusteeship over Kosovo.

Di Giovanni depicts just how unsatisfactory, even crazy, the "peace" in Kosovo is, with Serbs now clinging on in protected ghettos from which they dare not emerge. Today one may feel that the West should have bombed the hell out of Milosevic right at the start of the crisis, or perhaps we should have kept out completely until they got bored with killing each other, as happens all too often in Africa. What we got instead was a conflict resolution effort that became an excuse for the moral turpitude of Western leaders, together with the incompetence of the UN. As di Giovanni so passionately describes, this led ultimately to outrages in full view of the world, such as the massacre in the UN "safe haven" of Srebrenica.

My one regret is that di Giovanni does not give enough of herself. The brief snippets of introspection only left me crying for more about what made her tick. The book really comes together in the final seven pages, when the author returns to post-war Sarajevo in 2001.

"I didn't like what I saw in post-war Bosnia," she writes candidly. "In a nostalgic and certainly selfish way, I preferred the siege." One unfortunately knows exactly what she means. The idealism and the spirit under fire have vanished, to be replaced by Mafiosi, foreign businessmen and flash new cafés where half the population can't even afford to buy a cup of coffee. One appreciates just how much she loves the Balkans, and especially Sarajevo; also the paradox of how disturbing yet easy it is to fall in love with a people and a place at war.

Di Giovanni finished writing Madness Visible while expecting her first child and living in Côte d'Ivoire with her husband, Bruno Girodon – a journalist – as the African state slid towards chaos. An unsurprising situation perhaps for a woman like this, but one wishes Janine di Giovanni some peace at last after the years of madness.


From the front line

The Balkan conflict is brought home to Sara Wheeler in Janine di Giovanni's war memoir, Madness Visible

Saturday January 31, 2004
The Guardian

Madness Visible: A Memoir of War by Janine di Giovanni 304pp, Bloomsbury, £16.99

In this important book Janine di Giovanni picks her way confidently across the no-man's land of the female war correspondent. For so long the battlefield has been, for women reporters, a place shut off by the lack of a commission, or of a visa, or of courage. Of those who have slipped in under the wire, only Martha Gellhorn and Clare Hollingworth have elevated the art of writing the fighting to the plane of literature.

An American who moved to England in 1985, Di Giovanni is an award-winning foreign correspondent, and she spent much of the 1990s covering the Balkans. Madness Visible is a distillation of that experience. Her method, as in her newspaper reports, is to allow ordinary individuals to speak for themselves and then to work outwards to reveal the bigger picture; here the material is arranged in a sequence of diary-style sections that jump around the chronology. Di Giovanni documents both the main war, and what she calls "the series of backyard wars that had gutted the Balkans". The emotional focus of Madness Visible is the 1,300-day siege of Sarajevo. Many died trying to get out of the city by running across the airfield. If they made it, there was a signpost to Paris.

Di Giovanni was at the Sarajevo airfield. She was also at the KLA forward base camp near Kosare in May 1999 when the bombs fell. She was in Podgorica when special forces loyal to Djukanovic were on the rooftops, squaring up to Milosevic's federal army and thereby anticipating the dissolution of the Montenegro-Serb alliance. She witnessed the genocide of Srebrenica and heard General Mladic order his men: "Don't do anything but shell human flesh." She saw Kosovar Muslims who had been gang-raped; Orthodox crosses burned into living Muslim skulls; a dog with a hand in its mouth. She was there, and she wrote down what people told her. These testimonies form the heart of her book.




She has a firm grasp of the factions, and there are few outsiders who better understand what has happened in the Balkans in our time. Until I read this book I had no real idea of the sacred nature of Kosovo in the Serb national psyche. Di Giovanni is good on this crucial issue, and returns to it several times. One cannot underestimate the force of history in the region. In the northern Montenegrin villages that are Milosevic's strongholds, Kosovar Albanians and Bosnian Muslims are still referred to as "Turks". While Di Giovanni acknowledges the role of the past, in general she makes only a brief attempt to analyse the historical context against which this last catastro phe unravelled. Her task is to record what she saw.

In 1941 the legendary war photojournalist Robert Capa questioned the "incompatibility of being a reporter and hanging on to a tender soul at the same time". I would have liked more, in these pages, about the compromises that face the war correspondent. "We were guilty, we knew," Di Giovanni writes intriguingly of the press pack inside Sarajevo, "of perhaps covering one side of the war, but for us there was only one side: the side that was ... turning blue and purple. The truth wasn't necessarily objective; it was where we were sitting, what we were seeing." One day in Zagreb she was the only guest in a wing of the cavernous fin-de-siècle Esplanade hotel, and the waiter brought breakfast on a tray with a pink rose in a silver vase. "Where is everyone?" she asked. "Afraid of war," he said as he closed the heavy wooden door. It must have been a lonely moment.

Towards the end of the book she considers several of the protagonists in greater depth in an attempt to probe their psychology - Mira Markovic, Milosevic's wife; Nikola Koljevic, Shakespeare scholar, former vice-president of the Bosnian Serbs and architect of the destruction of Sarajevo; Biljana Plavsic, once called the Iron Lady of the Balkans and now in prison for crimes against humanity. But when she asks the question "Where did it come from, this evil?" she has no credible answer.

The prose is often clunky, and there is a whiff of the news pages in the proliferation of clichés ("life genuinely was Kafkaesque") and solecisms ("totally oblivious"). Like most journalists who write books, one senses that Di Giovanni is happier at short distances. But she has a keen reporter's eye, noting the old woman still taking her cow out to pasture on the front line, and she is big-hearted. She says she was determined not to dehumanise the people she followed, and she does not.

Blame? "Action should have been taken," she writes, "long before March 24 1999, when Nato began air strikes against Serbia." She is bitter at the failure of the international community to limit the suffering. "I doubt if Nato's actions were ever for humanitarian reasons," she notes grimly. "It was more about a crumbling post-cold-war institution that had been humiliated."

Her prognosis for the region is bleak. In the villages, "the fabric and culture bound together by generation after generation has frayed bit by bit, like a half-knit sweater that begins to unravel." Young Muslims are returning to Sarajevo with a new fanatical interest in Islam. Ancient hatreds do not die.

This is not literature, but by the end of it, after the headless, month-old baby, the blinded, weeping children fumbling for their bedclothes, and the abandoned nursing home where frail old Serbs froze to death one by one, I wondered whether literature has any point at all. In the end, Madness Visible is the story of all wars.

Sara Wheeler's Cherry: A Life of Apsley Cherry-Garrard is published by Vintage.


Travels Through Hell

A reporter's account of the last days of the Milosevic regime

By Joshua Hammer

Jan. 26 issue - On the evening of March 24, 1999, after the collapse of last-ditch diplomacy, NATO planes commenced bombing targets in Belgrade and in the ethnic Albanian province of Kosovo. The outbreak of war set off an orgy of mass killing by Serb police and paramilitaries, and the flight of 500,000 ethnic Albanians. It was the final gasp in an eight-year campaign of ethnic cleansing devised by Serb leader Slobodan Milosevic, the onetime communist apparatchik carried to power in 1987 by vowing to protect the rights of ethnic Serbs across the disintegrating Yugoslavia. The NATO air war ended 78 days later with the abject retreat of Serb civilians and soldiers from Kosovo, setting in motion Milosevic's ouster from power and his surrender to the International War Crimes Tribunal at The Hague.

“Madness Visible" (286 pages. Knopf) is Janine di Giovanni's unforgettable account of her journey through the Balkans during the dramatic last days of the Milosevic regime. Travelling through Kosovo and neighboring countries during the refugee exodus, she then slips into Serbia to observe the fallout from the Serbs' defeat. In vivid, compassionate prose, she brings us terrified Albanians streaming across the frigid mountains, swaggering death squads, the lost generation haunting Belgrade cafes who have known nothing but war and economic sanctions. Along the way, di Giovanni—a Times of London correspondent who spent three years in Sarajevo during the siege of the city in the mid-1990s—flashes back in time to recall her horrific experiences during the Bosnian conflict. Di Giovanni's work is a travelogue through hell, a pastiche of memory and on-scene reportage.

Few writers can match her evocations of individual suffering in wartime. Along the Kosovo border, we meet her Kosovar Albanian companion, Suzanna, who survived a terrorist bombing in a Pristina coffee bar that killed her best friend, then fled to Albania, where she was pulled off a bus and gang-raped by her ethnic kinsmen. In a Belgrade hospital, di Giovanni finds a Serb boy who was blinded by a NATO cluster bomb. Gazing incomprehensibly into the darkness, face swathed in bandages, he keeps repeating, "If only I knew what happened to my eyes." In the Bosnian town of Sanski Most she encounters a Muslim judge who had been dispatched to the Trnopolje death camp by a Serb policeman seeking revenge for a traffic fine. "So now you'll never give me a parking ticket again," the cop sneered as he dragged the jurist off to prison, where he survived beatings and starvation. The carnage in the Balkans, di Giovanni suggests, was as much about settling petty scores as it was about tribal hatreds and extremist ideology.

The author doesn't delve much into the historical background of the cataclysm: the centuries of wars and conquest, the ethnic rivalries that Tito kept in check, the implosion of the Yugoslav state and the unleashing of extremist forces. But in a series of up-close encounters, she brings us into the minds of some of the architects of the worst bloodshed in Europe since World War II. There's Zeljko (Arkan) Raznatovic, whose paramilitary squads exterminated thousands of Muslims in eastern Bosnia in 1992, then resumed their work in Kosovo. Soon after di Giovanni met with him in Belgrade, Arkan was gunned down in the Hotel Intercontinental—a hit, the author suggests, ordered by Milosevic's fanatical wife, Mira Markovic, who emerges in this account as the Lady Macbeth of the Balkans. Di Giovanni also sketches lesser-known—but no less monstrous—figures, such as Nikola Koljevic, a second-rate Shakespearean scholar who became one of Bosnia's most virulent Serb nationalists. The primary architect of the destruction of Sarajevo, he blew his brains out in 1997 when his dream of conquest was dashed at Dayton.

After reading di Giovanni's tale of devastation, one struggles to come away with a glimmer of hope for this shattered corner of Europe. True, some refugees have returned to the ruins of their homes, to live in uneasy proximity with the neighbors who drove them away. United Nations and NATO peacekeepers enforce peace in both Bosnia and Kosovo, while a phalanx of nation-builders constructs fragile democratic institutions out of the rubble. But then there are places like Banja Luka, capital of the Republic of Srpska, where killers and rapists continue to live in impunity. "A lot of terrible people who have never been indicted by the war-crimes tribunal, and never will be indicted, are out there walking the streets," a U.S. diplomat in Sarajevo tells the author. Di Giovanni's book is a catalog of their crimes—and a powerful memorial to their victims.


Eyewitness to Havoc

By Claudia La Rocco,
Wednesday, February 4, 2004; Page C02


A Memoir of War

By Janine di Giovanni.

Knopf. 286 pp. $24

In one of his essays on Shakespeare, Nikola Koljevic, the scholar turned Bosnian Serb vice president, wrote, "In an attempt to become more than he is, Macbeth virtually destroys himself." His old friend, the writer Marko Vesovic, often thought of these words when unable to sleep late at night in Sarajevo. Koljevic, stationed in nearby Pale, was perhaps also awake, plotting how next to ravage his former city, to which the Serbs laid siege from May 2, 1992, until Feb. 26, 1996. The longest siege in modern history, it led to the deaths of 10,615 people and left more than 50,000 wounded.

Vesovic hung on to that quote as he burned his books to keep his family warm and watched Koljevic reduce the majestic National Library to rubble. It gave him some small clue to understanding his former friend's transformation from respected academic to hard-line nationalist out to "cleanse" Bosnia of its Muslim population. He thought of it on Jan. 17, 1997, when Koljevic shot himself. It would serve, Vesovic believed, as a fitting epitaph.

It is a clue, but neither it nor the death of Koljevic's son nor his lifelong feelings of inferiority can adequately explain the horrors perpetrated by him and countless others during the ethnic wars that devastated the former Yugoslavia throughout the 1990s. How does one explain genocide? This seems to be the million-dollar question of our time. It is, perhaps, as unanswerable as it is horrifying.

Janine di Giovanni, a senior foreign correspondent for the London Times and author of "The Quick and the Dead: Under Siege in Sarajevo," spent much of the 1990s in the Balkans, reporting on the wars in Bosnia, Kosovo and elsewhere. In "Madness Visible," she tries to understand how people could rape or kill their former neighbors and friends -- and how, after such indescribable brutality, some of these perpetrators and victims could return to their communities, live in the same homes, pass each other in the streets.

Di Giovanni describes Zlatko, a half-Croatian, half-Muslim resident of the Bosnian village of Kozarac who was detained and tortured at the Omarska concentration camp during the Bosnian war, sometimes by people he knew. "Sometimes," she writes, "Zlatko would run into Serb neighbors whom he knew before the war. He would always greet them. Then he would ask them: 'What happened?' " They never answered. Zlatko stayed in Kozarac, he tells her, because, even if they have destroyed him, they cannot destroy his country.

But, like Koljevic's Macbeth, it is a near thing, as di Giovanni shows us again and again. She offers numerous horrors, some witnessed by her and others recounted by shattered or defiant participants. The veteran reporter has a keen eye for detail and dialogue, whether describing chaotic battles between the motley Kosovo Liberation Army and Serbian forces, or the heartbreaking story of Azra, a Muslim woman raped by so many Serbian soldiers she had no way of knowing which one fathered her daughter, Lajla, a smart, angelically beautiful girl trying her best to take care of her damaged mother.

In seeking to personalize the war, however, di Giovanni sometimes does just the opposite, piling on tragedy after tragedy so that the reader becomes inured to the accounts. In this, she succumbs to a common mistake among foreign correspondents, settling for what Laura Silber and Allan Little, in their book "Yugoslavia: Death of a Nation," describe as a " 'we were there and it was horrible' account of life on the front line." This is exacerbated by di Giovanni's propensity to jump in a rapid-fire way between times and places, often giving only perfunctory historical background as she goes. Readers not well versed in the region's long and complex history may find themselves frustrated by her style.

But di Giovanni comes into her own when recounting the earlier war in Bosnia, spending more time on individuals' stories and delving a bit more substantially into the political, historical and ethnic tensions contributing to the 1992-95 war. This shift makes sense, given di Giovanni's admission that no other war-torn nation has touched her as Bosnia did: "The journalist Martha Gellhorn once said, speaking of the Spanish Civil War, that it was only possible to love one war. The rest becomes responsibility."

While di Giovanni looks back, however, she is well aware that others do not. Even as its citizens struggle to live with the "stink of evil" that pervades the Balkans, the eyes of the world have long since turned away. "Madness Visible" reminds us of the folly and shame in this neglect.  



Madness Visible by Janine di Giovanni

A personal journey into the dark past of Sarajevo

By Caroline Moorehead

13 February 2004

The images are what make Janine di Giovanni's book so shocking: the starving dogs with severed human hands in their mouths, the wards full of dead elderly people, left to die under piles of rags, the babies with their heads chopped off. But these are the realities of modern war, where civilians make up 90 per cent of casualties, and the combatants are sometimes schoolboys carrying Kalashnikovs larger than themselves. Madness Visible does not set out to shock, but rather to witness and report, and as a picture of conflict in our time, it is hard to see how it could have been done better. It is a terrifying account, soberly written.

Di Giovanni has been around these wars for a long time. For newspapers, she has written about Chechnya and Sierra Leone, East Timor, Liberia, Rwanda and Somalia: places whose names have become synonymous with the atrocities of our times. Towards the end of Madness Visible, she quotes a remark of Martha Gellhorn that it is only possible to love one war, and that the rest become responsibility.

For di Giovanni that war was Bosnia, and before, during and after the long siege of Sarajevo, she went back again and again, getting to know villages whose names no one remembered, just as few people really understood or remembered the causes of the war. She was in Sarajevo as buildings were burnt out and people queued in the snow for water; she was there again after it had been rebuilt, with Benetton shops and stores selling French cosmetics. She saw for herself the shelling, and wrote down what she saw.

As her frequent references make clear, di Giovanni is a great admirer of Gellhorn, and she shares something of Gellhorn's spare, precise style. Like Gellhorn, she writes about the unreality of time in war, when hours and minutes stretch, with intense periods of boredom, and short periods of fear.

Gellhorn's war, the Spanish Civil War, was also a time of informal soldiering, but a model of discipline compared to Bosnia. There, fresh-faced boys wearing Ralph Lauren ski hats under their helmets engaged in acts of senseless brutality; civilians were beaten and tortured before being axed to death.

In an orphanage for children born of the rape of thousands of Muslim women, di Giovanni noted bleakly how the babies seemed most neglected, because no one ever touched them. Why, she asks bitterly, making clear that for her, as for Gellhorn, the idea of impartiality was absurd, did Nato not launch air strikes eight years before they did, and so prevent the entire series of wars?

The actual span of Madness Visible covers the years 1999-2001. But the story it tells is of the entire decade, reconstructed from memory, interviews and conversations. Di Giovanni is particularly good at profiles of some of the main players, like Mira Markovic, Milosovic's wife, or Nikola Koljevic, the former Bosnian vice-president and Shakespearean scholar, who committed suicide. About these people she writes calmly but with hatred, just as she writes with huge sympathy for the generation trying to process the horror.

Madness Visible presents a stunning portrait of the anarchy, cruelty and overwhelming confusion of contemporary wars, when not even the identity of those bombing you is clear, and young women soldiers with spiky hair wait to attack villages full of old people and children.

Caroline Moorehead's life of Martha Gellhorn is published by Chatto & Windus


The real side of war
Reviewed by Sam Kiley, Evening Standard (5 January 2004)

Madness Visible: A Memoir of War

by Janine di Giovanni

Publisher: Bloomsbury

To recall the snipers, the genocidal rape, the arson of libraries, and the massacres which tore Yugoslavia into ribbons and shamed Europe, is to look back through warm, rosetinted lenses of nostalgia. Then, there were certainties.

There seemed no depths which extremist Croat and Serb leaders would not plumb, and no shortage of vile creatures of the deep to carry out their hideous fantasies. During the early 1990s it was just as certain that our politicians would ignore the horrors.

But we all knew what was going on. And the politicians were herded up the moral high ground on the pitchforks of basic truth by journalists like Janine di Giovanni, who didn't let what was going on go unlamented.

The journalists put human faces on the dead. They chronicled the hours, days, weeks, months and years that the towns and cities of the condemned spent waiting for the executioner's bullet.

When the masked men came, their murders were quickly reported. Too little was done, and too late - but in the end we did the Right Thing - we bombed Slobodan Milosevic and Radovan Karadzic - in the end toppling their regimes.

Major, Blair, and Clinton could not ignore the disasters unfolding in the Balkans, because people like di Giovanni were around to make sure that we didn't. And of course, we could indulge in moral certainties. What was going on in the Balkans was wrong, and (in the end) we stopped it.

Di Giovanni is a war reporter whose courage is matched only by her compassion for her subjects. In Madness Visible, she casts a surprisingly unsentimental eye on the seven years she spent covering the Balkans - working back through the years of hate from the liberation of Kosovo (by a bizarre combination of Nato and Russian troops) to the early days of the end of Yugoslavia more than a decade ago.

She is a woman who simply doesn't know the meaning of the word "can't" and in her chosen profession that's a major asset.

Her latest book reads much like a dispatch from hell. She cradles the head of a dying youth on the battle field in Kosovo, comforts her friends, many of whom are among survivors of Sarajevo, though their night terrors.

But it is her portraits of the philosopher psychos - the architects of Serb racist fascism - which are most chilling. Could it really have been true that Radovan Karadzic, leader of the Bosnian Serbs, was a child psychologist and poet? His deputy, Nikola Koljevic, a Shakespearean scholar? Or Biljana Plavsic, the convicted war criminal who became the Bosnian Serb president, an eminent biologist?

They were all on the faculty of Sarajevo's University yet were happy to bomb their home town flat.

Di Giovanni's portraits of these monsters are all the more chilling because she troubled to find their former friends, Bosnian Muslim academics, who shared holidays and meals with these death dealing dons, were betrayed by them, and yet cannot quite muster the hatred deserved.

So, how can di Giovanni's chilling recent history of the Balkans create any feeling of nostalgia? Well, in those days which feel so long ago, the West was on the side of right. When despots claiming they were acting in self-defence invaded other countries and killed innocent people, we held the moral high ground and sent troops to stop them. Is this true today?








War and Peace, and More War
A new book on the ethnic tensions in the former Yugoslavia indicates just how fragile the peace is

by Lisa Gates - January 22, 2004

What happened to Yugoslavia? In the 1980s, it was the poster child of Eastern Europe -- host of the winter Olympic games, popular vacation spot for Europeans looking for a summer getaway, an ethnically diverse country where Serbs, Muslims and Croats lived in integrated communities. But after the collapse of the Soviet Union, it dissolved into disparate pieces and the ethnic tensions that had been part of the Balkan landscape since the Middle Ages, erupted into a long, vicious war. First, there was the Bosnian conflict that lasted five years and took 250,000 lives. Then, a few years after the peace accord was signed, another conflict flared up in this southern Serbian province of Kosovo.

This is the Yugoslavia explored by foreign correspondent Janine di Giovanni in her new book Madness Visible , about a place that has been torn apart in the last decade by ethnic violence.

A senior foreign correspondent for The Times in London, di Giovanni covered the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia from the beginning of the Bosnian war. She spent that first winter under siege in Sarajevo -- an attack that ultimately lasted 1,395 days, the longest in modern history. In Kosovo, she traveled with ethnic Albanians fighting to regain footing in their country, and later stood in solidarity with Serb dissenters in Cacak on "Day One" of the overthrow of Slobodan Milosevic. Although the book deals primarily with the conflict in Kosovo, it also covers important moments from the initial dissolution of Yugoslavia in 1991 to the recent attempts at reconstruction. In her attempts to identify the reasons underlying the madness, di Giovanni lays the blame squarely on the Serbs, and the nationalist ambitions of former president Milosevic and other Serbian leaders, many of whom have already been convicted of war crimes at the Hague.

The conflict in Kosovo, which opens di Giovanni's account, began in 1999, four years after the Bosnian war had officially ended. Under the direction of Milosevic, what began as a campaign against the separatist Kosovo Liberation Army became an all-out war against ethnic Albanians living in Kosovo. After NATO bombing raids began in March 1999, Serbian rampages against the Kosovar Albanians began in earnest. Albanian men and boys were rounded up and murdered. Families were forced from their homes, their houses burned. Women were kidnapped by Serbian militia and held in "rape camps," where they were beaten, humiliated, and violated for weeks on end. And then there were the refugees. By the end of March, 500,000 Kosovar Albanians -- nearly a quarter of the population -- had fled. By the end of the war, 78 days later, at least 2,000 people were dead. Other sources suggest as many as 10,000 were killed.

Serbian actions in Kosovo were hauntingly similar to the campaigns in Bosnia to "cleanse" those regions of non-Serbs. In 1991, 536,000 Muslims and Croats lived in Banja Luka, the second-largest city in Bosnia; by 1995, that number was 45,000. In the town of Srebrenica, di Giovanni tells of thousands of Muslim men who were murdered by Serbian armies in July 1995 -- the number lies between 2,000 and 7,000 depending on the source. The Serbian goal, it seems clear now, was to unite the Serbian populations living in Serbia, Bosnia and Croatia, by eliminating the Muslim and Croat populations that lived in between.

Though the numbers of the dead are staggering, far more affecting are the personal stories of loss di Giovanni records. There is Albasa and her husband Husein, a judge, betrayed by their old friend, the mayor, during the Bosnian war. Albasa survived, but her husband was taken away just two weeks before the peace accord, beaten, and then forced to dig his grave. There were 68 other bodies in the mass grave where his remains were located, some of them children. In Kosovo, di Giovanni travels for a time with a young woman, Suzanna, who had been sitting in a cafe with her friend talking about theater when a bomb exploded. Within a week, she had been separated from her home, her family, and survived a brutal rape by three Serbian "policemen." Di Giovanni recounts Suzanna's story:

"Suzanna was never okay, not really. She had been sitting in a Pristina cafe with her best friend when a group of Serb paramilitary razed the place with bullets. She woke up lying in blood and glass, and, searching around for her handbag, found the dying body of her friend. Sometimes, she says, she still dreams about it, and she wonders why it was her fate to live and her friend's to die. 'I wonder if there will ever come a time when I don't dream about it,' she said."

There is Mehije, who was forced by neighbors to leave her home in Kosovo with her husband and six children and walk the 50 kilometers through the woods to the Albanian border. Nine-months pregnant, she gave birth in the snow and in the darkness and chaos, her husband disappeared. This is the damage di Giovanni records -- the individual lives that have been destroyed in these 10 years. For even those who did survive, di Giovanni makes clear, are not unscathed. This is a nation of walking wounded, still reeling from the trauma of that decade, and in many cases, still searching for the bodies of loved ones.

Today, eight years after the Bosnian wars and two years after the Kosovo conflicts, there has been some justice meted out at the highest levels with the conviction of some Serbian and Albanian leaders. Sarajevo has an Internet cafe and good restaurants, but the only ones who can afford the fare are Mafioso and internationals. Corruption is rampant, and despite at least $5 billion in donor aid, Bosnia in 2002 was the poorest country in Europe after Albania. Those who survived and returned to their homes now live alongside those ordinary people who may never be held accountable for their crimes. There is an entire generation of young people lost. Those who survived or did not leave have little in the way of opportunities.

This book is very clearly a personal one. Quoting Martha Gellhorn, another wartime journalist, di Giovanni writes that it is only possible to love one war. Bosnia was that war for di Giovanni, and her account reflects both her passionate engagement with the people and her own sense of deep loss in this place. Although di Giovanni is careful to include conflicting positions and accounts -- she is a reporter after all -- it's clear her sympathies lie with the Sarajevans under siege, the ethnic Albanians expelled from Kosovo, and the Muslims and Croats killed just because of their ethnic identities, and she is less interested in acts of retribution, which were frequent in the Kosovo conflict. What is also clear from her observations of these wars is that the peace that exists right now is likely only a temporary lull. The historical tensions between Serbs, Croats and Muslims in the Balkans have only been further complicated by this last round of war, and it seems a hard thing indeed to rebuild trust among these different groups when the graves are overflowing with their dead.


 Introduction to Zlata's Diary

Janine di Giovanni

I first heard of Zlata Filipovic in the summer of 1993 when a Bosnian friend told me about a young girl who was being called "the Anne Frank of Sarajevo." I found out that Zlata was a thirteen-  year-old girl, living with her parents, who had been keeping a diary since September 1991, a few  months before the first barricades went up in the city and the heavy shelling began. Before the war  broke out, she led a very happy, normal life; she had no way of knowing that within six months her  life would change irrevocably. When she began writing her diary, which she called Mimmy, she had  no idea that the family weekend house outside Sarajevo would be destroyed; that her best friends  would be killed while playing in a park. She only thought about things that any normal thirteen-  year-old girl thinks about: pop music, movies, boys, Linda Evangelista and Claudia Shiffer, skiing in  the mountains outside Sarajevo and her next holiday in Italy or at the beach. Her family was  comfortably well-off, the apartment in which her parents had lived for twenty years was spacious  and elegant with a view of the river, and they had neighbors, relatives and friends nearby who  were constantly dropping in. 

Life changed quickly in the spring of 1992. Within a couple of months of Zlata's first diary  entry, Serbian artillery positions were set up on the hills directly above her house and the family  had to move all their possessions in to the front room, which was protected from shrapnel by  sandbags. Soon, there were no more windows left in Zlata's apartment: they were all blown out by  the impact of shells. At that point, Bosnians who could leave the city fled; others refused to go,  not really believing that their city would be reduced to rubble. Zlata watched with disbelief as her  friends and relatives tried desperately to flee before it was too late. "I'm all alone here," she  wrote. 

Over the next few months, Zlata watched her world fall apart. She could not comprehend  the issues that had become all-important: ethnic cleansing, the Geneva talks, Lord Owen and the  division of Bosnia. She could only comprehend that nothing was the same and nothing would ever  be the same again. Her father, a lawyer whose office was next door to their apartment, stopped  working, but eerily, the sign remained on the door which was littered with shrapnel. Her mother, a  chemist, began to slip into a state of gloom and despair as the family spent day after day cowering  in the cellar while heavy artillery ravaged Sarajevo. Supplies ran low and then became nonexistent.  The electricity was cut, the phone went dead, water stopped running from the taps. Food  consisted of humanitarian aid packages: tasteless white feta cheese, the occasional loaf of bread if  you waited long enough in line and were brave enough to face the shelling, the occasional can of  meat bought on the black market for 50 Deutsche Marks. There was no water to take a bath or  flush a toilet. Her parents lost so much weight that they could not wear any of their old clothes.  Before the war, Zlata had been a diligent student studying English, music, math and  literature, but because the Serbs often targeted schools and playgrounds, school was stopped—it  was too dangerous to walk the few blocks to attend classes. Zlata was not allowed to go outside  and play, so she had to stay in the apartment. Whenever it seemed sage, she would practice the  piano, which was in her parents' bedroom—one of the more dangerous rooms. She played Bach and  Chopin even while the sound of machine guns echoed from the hills. It gave her comfort to know  that, despite the war, her playing was improving. For a short while, it also made her forget that  outside in the streets below her, a war was being fought. And all the time, she kept on writing  about her daily life. 

During the summer of 1993, Zlata submitted her diaries to a teacher who had them  published by a small press in Sarajevo with the help of the International Centre for Peace. She  became an instant celebrity, with packs of journalists and television crews climbing the stairs to  her apartment to quiz the small girl about her life. 

I first met Zlata when her school temporarily restarted. A small figure with bright blue eyes  bounded up to me enthusiastically with an outstretched hand and addressed me in English. We sat  on a wall and when a shell fell I noticed that she did not flinch. As we walked to her house, she  talked about her life, her dreams, her sadness. She told me about the death of Nina, a friend she  had known since she was very young. "How many of your friends have died?" I asked her gently. She  thought for a moment. "Too many to count," she replied. I thought then that she seemed more  adult, more resigned and stoical, than most of the adults I knew. 

In October, during one of the worst days of shelling, I drove to Zlata's house to make sure  that the family was all right. Her mother answered the door; she was shaking with fear. "We were  in the basement all morning," she said, and her voice broke. She sat on the sofa in the "safe room"  and collapsed into sobs. Zlata and I stood by watching helplessly while she wept for half an hour.  "No more, no more, we cannot bear any more." At one point, I turned around to see Zlata. I placed  my hand on her shoulder and asked, "Are you all right?" She looked at me gravely and said, "I have  to be all right." Her voice was very old and it chilled me. Not only had she lost her innocence, those  wonderful years when she should have been meeting boys and laughing with her girlfriends, but she  was in the terrible reversed position of having to be strong for the sake of her parents. Even if she  wanted to, she could not fall apart. 

Zlata is the only child, treasured and protected by her parents. Perhaps it was the  confidence inspired by her family life that gave her the will to endure the horrors that were taking  place on her doorstep. During the course of reporting the war in Bosnia, I met many children, sat  with them in the hospital, in their homes, in orphanages. All of them were traumatized and shell-  shocked. I spoke to psychiatrists who talked of post-traumatic stress syndrome and the effect of  the war on all these children. Zlata was different: she was suffering, but because she was recording  the events taking place around her, she tended to see the world from a slightly detached  viewpoint. It was almost as though she was watching a film in which she was a character. There are  hundreds of thousands like her in Bosnia: besieged, frightened, their short lives suddenly ground to  a halt. The difference is that she kept a careful record of the chilling events—the deaths, the  mutilations, the sufferings. When we read her diaries, we think of desperation, of confusion and of  innocence lost, because a child should not be seeing, should not be living with this kind of horror.  Her tragedy becomes our tragedy because we know what is happening in Sarajevo. And still, we do  not act. 

In December 1993 Zlata and her parents were transported from their home in the old section  of Sarajevo and a few hours later they left for the safety of Paris on a UN plane. As I watched the  television images of Sarajevo at Christmas, I remember Zlata telling me about her dreams and I  wonder what she is dreaming now, safe in Paris. "I used to dream about the beach, somewhere  warm," she once told me. "But when there is shelling, I only think about being safe." She is now  safe, but there are thousands of other children who are not, who are sitting in the dark around a  candle, hungry, terrified by the shelling, who have lost parents, brothers, sisters. It is for them  that Zlata wrote her book.  


Di Giovanni: 'I would testify'

Ciar Byrne
Friday October 25, 2002


Award-winning war correspondent Janine Di Giovanni has waded into the row over journalists giving evidence in the Hague war crimes tribunals, declaring they have "an obligation" to testify.

Di Giovanni, who has reported from conflict zones around the world including Bosnia, Chechnya and the Ivory Coast, said journalists were in a difficult position but, on balance, they had a duty to say what they saw if asked.

The issue came to a head in August when the BBC's former Belgrade correspondent, Jacky Rowland, gave evidence against the Serb leader, Slobodan Milosevic, at the Hague, saying she regarded it as her "duty".

But her decision was criticised by a number of journalists - including some BBC colleagues - who claimed giving evidence compromised the role of reporters as independent observers and endangered their lives.

Earlier this month a legal team, led by Geoffrey Robertson QC, argued at the Hague war crimes tribunal that a former Washington Post journalist, Jonathan Randal, should not be forced to testify about allegations of genocide in Bosnia.

Di Giovanni said: "I'm slightly divided on it. On one hand I think that as journalists we have an obligation.

"I would testify but I understand Jonathan Randal's reservations. It's a very awkward and possibly dangerous position but then again, that's part of our job."

Roy Gutman, a journalist on the US magazine Newsweek and the president of the Crimes of War Project, an international organisation that aims to inform and train journalists about reporting on conflicts, argued journalists should do everything they can to avoid becoming the story.

"The worry I have about testifying is that we - the journalists - become active participants," Gutman said at a debate at City University last night.

"I think the value of what we do should be such to these tribunals that they should think long and hard about what provisions there are to protect us and at the moment there are no provisions," he added.

However, Gutman admitted there are some circumstances in which it might be necessary for war reporters to give evidence for justice to be served.

"I think if one's testimony would make the difference between the conviction and the release of an obvious war criminal, it would be a matter of conscience.

"There are exceptions to the principle but, in general, I would be very cautious about journalists taking part in testimonies," he said.

The tribunal in the Hague ruled in June that Randal must give evidence based on an interview he conducted in 1993 with a Bosnian Serb politician, Radoslav Brdjanin, who is charged with the genocide of hundreds of Croats and Muslims during the 1992-1995 Bosnian conflict.

Earlier this month, Mr Robertson argued before the tribunal that if journalists are forced to testify on conflicts, they would come to be regarded "not as civilians... but as spies who operate on the side that is favoured by the UN".

However, Mr Brdjanin's lawyer changed his mind about calling Randal as a witness and a UN prosecutor, Joanna Korner, said that if his 1993 article was no longer a matter of contention, he would not be called to give evidence.

And last month a group of former senior BBC journalists wrote a letter to the Times criticising the corporation for allowing its correspondents to become "informants" and arguing that putting journalists in the witness box could put their lives in danger.


Readers have 'no idea', says top war correspondent

Claire Cozens
Thursday March 27, 2003


The demands of real-time television, Iraqi restrictions on reporters in Baghdad and the difficulty of getting to the front line are conspiring to make it virtually impossible for journalists to cover the war properly, the award-winning war correspondent Janine di Giovanni has warned.

Di Giovanni, who was reporting for the Times in Baghdad until editor Robert Thomson ordered her to leave the city last week, said viewers and readers had "no idea" how difficult the war in Iraq has been from a journalist's perspective.

"The story, for a reporter, is in one of two places: in Baghdad, which it is almost impossible to get to now, or in the southern desert with the marines. To be there, however, reporters had to "embed" with the Pentagon months ago.

"Most experienced war reporters balked at the notion of being so controlled and having to obey a 12-page booklet put forth by the American war machine," she wrote in today's Times.

Many of Britain's most experienced reporters - including the BBC's John Simpson, Fergal Keane and Allan Little - are marooned on borders they had thought would open up, but which are now far away from the action, she added.

"Reporters are pulling out their hair with boredom in Kurdistan; there's a real war in the western desert on the Jordanian-Iraq border, but no one can get to it; and on the border of Kuwait most of the press corps are miserably camping out in their cars, unable to get into the desert."

Di Giovanni said the risks for so-called "unilaterals" - journalists operating independently of the allied troops - are huge, as the death last weekend of the ITN reporter Terry Lloyd showed.

She revealed that coalition forces had received dozens of calls from journalists travelling alone in the desert who had come under fire.

Di Giovanni also admitted the demands of 24-hour television news sometimes meant mistakes were made.

"Most journalists simply don't have time to gather enough information before presenters sitting in cosy London studios throw irritating questions at them which they often cannot answer.

"As a result mistakes are made: Umm Qasr declared secure before it actually was controlled, the uprisings in Basra not yet proven to be true."

The BBC director of news, Richard Sambrook, yesterday admitted it was proving difficult for correspondents in Iraq to distinguish the truth from false reports, after a series of media claims about the progress of coalition forces turned out to be premature.

BBC presenters have now been told to use a standard phrase when introducing reporters in the Gulf, making clear they are operating under restrictions.


My baby and the front line
By Allegra Donn, Evening Standard
5 January 2004

As an award-winning war reporter, covering conflicts as far afield as Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Chechnya and Iraq, 40-year-old Janine di Giovanni thought she had seen it all. "But nothing," she says, "could have prepared me for my newest adventure: having my first baby. I'm trying to make it as low-key as possible because I don't want my life to change completely."

We meet at her tastefully furnished Notting Hill flat, all pastel sofas and Space NK candles, a world away from the trenches and minefields that have been her home for the past two decades, where she often wouldn't get to wash for weeks on end. "I love beautiful things," she says, "but I don't need them. The one thing I've learned through war is that human beings don't need very much."

Despite the baby, her first, being due in February, di Giovanni has only just hung up her flak jacket. At six months pregnant, she took her last assignment to Gaza for three weeks. "My husband is incredibly protective but he trusts me and understands me better than anyone. He lets me do what makes me happy."

Luckily, her husband, Bruno Girodon, is a French television correspondent, and they met at the Holiday Inn during the siege of Sarajevo. "I was walking to the underground car park with the BBC's Jeremy Bowen when suddenly, out of nowhere, this handsome man ran across the lobby towards me, sliding the last bit of the way on his knees, until he got to my feet and muttered words of love. Jeremy rolled his eyes to the ceiling and just said: 'Ahhh, the French.'

"I met him again, coming back from the last Bosnian point of resistance against the Serbs, just outside the city. I was in my helmet, bulletproof jacket and covered in mud from having rolled down a hill. I spotted Bruno having rosé wine with two Bosnian girls, as though he were in Marseille on a beautiful summer's day." They got together for three months, but both eventually went back to their respective long-term relationships. They wouldn't meet until five years later in Algeria, and finally tied the knot last August.

Growing up in an affluent Italian-American family in New Jersey (her father gave up finance to become an educational psychologist and teacher to inner-city children, her mother a housewife), Janine longed to be a novelist. "Then in my mid-twenties, while working as a freelance journalist in London, I came across Felicia Langer, an Israeli human rights lawyer, a victim of the Holocaust, who was defending the rights of Palestinians. She prompted me to go to Israel and interview her for the Sunday Correspondent."

Since then, di Giovanni has covered many conflicts, both for The Times and Vanity Fair. Like most war correspondents, her life is schizophrenic, and she admits she often finds it hard to reconcile the two worlds. "Once, travelling home from Sierra Leone, I was shocked that everyone I came across had arms and legs - I had become so used to seeing maimed human beings."

When she started out, di Giovanni was one of only a handful of female war reporters, but now they are almost commonplace, with the likes of Saira Shah and Jackie Rowland coming through the ranks. Is her gender a help or a hindrance in the field? "It's impossible to generalise. Ann Leslie from the Daily Mail said she would dangle her bangles at check points and they would let her through, thinking she was a bird-brain. But often soldiers won't let you through if you're a woman, because if something should happen, they don't want to have it on their conscience. Soldiers often prefer to be with men; they don't want you in a tent when they go to sleep - they want their privacy."

The criticism women war reporters most often face is that they will be more sensitive - "I disagree with that entirely. I've written military reports and I've written about the suffering of civilians. A good reporter should be able to do both."

One difference in the field is that women have to be more careful to observe local customs. "I was appalled in Iraq by how many of the young female reporters for the American networks turned up in cropped T-shirts and low-slung jeans. You wouldn't visit your grandparents like that, so why would you subject Muslim people to that? One female reporter was even ordered out of a canteen in Afghanistan by the US military so as not to distract their troops. My generation went out of its way to be taken seriously."

She is fiercely proud of her profession: "The horror in the Balkans came to the attention of the world because of a few persistent reporters. Our job is to bear witness, and I think we can and do make a difference."

The brutality of the decade-long war in the former Yugoslavia is powerfully described in her new book, Madness Visible. "During the siege of Sarajevo, we'd go to the morgue every morning to count the corpses. It was a really dark time in European history," she says. "That's why I wrote the book. So that people don't forget."

But the conflicts kept on coming. Di Giovanni had been in Baghdad since December 2002, until she was pulled out two days before the war started when it was deemed by her editor to be too dangerous, especially for a reporter with both an American and a British passport. The press back home made much of her departure.

"The editor of The Times made the decision to close the bureau for safety reasons, and I didn't have the right to override that. I was initially disappointed, but in the grand scheme of things, I can understand why such a decision was made." Once the war started she went into the desert with the British troops, and was back in time to witness the fall of Baghdad.

She has had her close scrapes with death: one in Chechnya, where she and a French writer and a German photographer were the only foreign reporters to witness the fall of Grozny. "I was there for six weeks; it's terrifying to be in a city that's falling into enemy hands. We were being bombed, Russian tanks were everywhere. I thought I was going to die. I managed to call my husband who told me: 'Remember, the best reporter is the one who comes back alive to tell the story.'"

Another make-or-break moment was when she was picked up by Serb paramilitaries in Kosovo. She somehow managed to shred her notes containing names of informers and sites of mass graves by opening the car door very slightly, and dispersing the incriminating papers onto the snow.

But will she honestly be able to take as many risks once she becomes a mother? "I will continue to work - I will have to assess everything as it happens. I don't know if I will be able to spend three months in Iraq again, but I will still want to be where the big stories are. You don't lose all drive simply because you've had a baby.

"I entered this profession to report human rights violations and that won't change. Bruno and I will just have to make sure we aren't covering wars at the same time, and we'll take it in turns to stay home. I guess I will be doing the opposite of my mum, who always stayed at home with us. I'm never going to give it up."

Old habits die hard.




A man who seemed to be immortal

WHEN I heard the news that Kurt Schork and Miguel had been killed in a road ambush by RUF rebels, I was horrified, saddened and shocked, but on another level, hardly surprised. Kurt, more than any war correspondent I knew, took risks and always went further "down the road" - a euphemism for covering frontlines - than anyone. But Kurt's death also stunned me because he was a symbol to all of us who do this job: of bravery and fearlessness. In a sense, he always seemed untouchable.

To die on a road in Sierra Leone because he had simply gone too far is a terrible waste. In Sarajevo in 1992 there was a French journalist who used to ride around in a soft-skinned car, on the side of which he had painted: "Don't waste your bullets, I am immortal." That journalist, sadly, got shot. Kurt used to laugh at that car but it was he, more than the French journalist, who seemed immortal.

Foreign correspondents all know each other; we see each other all over the world, read each other's stuff, know about each other's lives. Some are more visible and legendary than others, but everyone knew Kurt and Miguel on first-name basis. "Who's there?" is the first question you ask when you're being sent off somewhere risky. Inevitably, if it was dangerous, the answer was: "Kurt's already there."

At the risk of sounding clichéd, Kurt was a great journalist. Perhaps because, at 53, he was older than most war correspondents - he had lived many lives before becoming a journalist in his 40s - his reporting always had a finer-tuned analysis and sensitivity, along with a penetrating sense of humour.

I had dinner with him a few nights ago in Freetown, and we laughed about the latest UN disaster. I remarked that we should write a book about all the lies the UN had told us during conflicts. "That," he said with a straight face, "would be a very long book - perhaps several volumes."

He then turned his attention to the wildness of reporting in Sierra Leone, and talked about the danger of the place. It was Kurt who had warned me, a few days earlier, about checkpoints being manned by "West Side Boys", a renegade bunch of teenage soldiers fighting on the side of government forces, who wielded RPGs and British-made rifles as if they were toys. "Man, those guys are like a pick-up basketball game," he said. "Everyone shouting and yelling - I want to play centre!" The image was stunningly correct.

I first met Kurt in Sarajevo in 1992. I had arrived alone without any contacts. Nervous and self-conscious, I wandered into the Reuters office. He introduced himself and said there was a battle going on up the road, near the airport in a suburb called Otes. He asked me if I wanted to go.

It was Sarajevo where he made his name. He loved the city passionately and stayed longer than anyone - four years. He stored his stuff in a room at a hotel in Istanbul. For years he did not have a real base. It could not have been easy, but it was rewarding: it was his reporting, his questioning and his tireless quest to get the story out when the world had tired of Bosnia that kept the story going.

Miguel, like Kurt, was also legendary. When I was in Padesh with the Kosovo Liberation Army, under heavy bombardment last year, Miguel was the only other journalist. His television pictures of the carnage after that attack are classic war reporting, as was his work this year from Chechnya. When I went to Grozny this year, it was Miguel I phoned for advice. His words were chilling: "The shelling is worse than Sarajevo," he said. "It will drive you to the point of madness." He warned me that I would get paranoid about being taken hostage, and told me that getting out of Grozny when I wanted to would take at least a week longer than I thought.

These are the kinds of things that are invaluable to pass on to other journalists, and Miguel knew that.

I knew Kurt much better than Miguel, but I will miss them both, as journalists and friends.

Their deaths will provide a terrible vacuum in war reporting - who else will take the chances that they did?




Tales From The War

A correspondent's wrenching memoir.

By Ginanne Brownell

Newsweek International

Feb. 20, 2006 issue - Being a war correspondent is a privilege and a burden. The privilege comes from having firsthand access to the events that shape history. But it can also be a painful responsibility to trespass through the most intimately horrific moments of people's lives. The trick is to tell their stories in full, compassionate detail while illuminating their relevance to the bigger picture. Janine di Giovanni strikes just that balance in "The Place at the End of the World" (432 pages. Bloomsbury Press). As a senior correspondent for The Times of London and a contributing editor for Vanity Fair, Di Giovanni has covered wars in such places as the Balkans, Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia. She recounts compelling tales of her experiences, from the flirty girls in Kabul who want to learn to dance after the fall of the Taliban to 18-year-old Sia, a former child soldier in Sierra Leone who is so adept at cutting off people's limbs that she is charged with training captured 5- and 6-year olds. Di Giovanni shares her heartache over the murder of a close colleague in Sierra Leone, as well as her disbelief when she learns that a close Iraqi friend was an agent under Saddam Hussein. Journalists, di Giovanni poignantly reminds us, are only human, after all.