A living foreign correspondent the most useless thing to media industry -- Reviewing a "Novel of Jihad"

The magazine of Harvard's Nieman Fellowship asked me to write an essay about Jeffrey Fleishman's "Promised Virgins: A Novel of Jihad". I wrote about why international correspondents like me and Fleishman, Cairo bureau chief for the LA Times, turn to novels to express the depth of what we learn about a foreign culture. Here's how the article begins:

Jay Morgan, the central character of Jeffrey Fleishman’s thought provoking “novel of Jihad,” carries an undeveloped roll of film shot by his young photographer wife in the moments before she was killed in Beirut. Morgan lifts her wounded body to safety, but she dies anyway. It’s a fitting image on which to build Morgan’s deep bitterness and disillusion about journalism as he covers the war in Kosovo. In these days of cyberjournalism, idiotic reader “talkbacks” and nonsensical newsroom cutbacks, the only thing apparently more useless to the media industry than an undeveloped film or a dead photographer is a living foreign correspondent.

The story of “Promised Virgins” revolves around Morgan’s trek through the mountains as he interviews Serbs, Albanians and CIA operatives on the hunt for a newly arrived jihadi who has brought Islamic fundamentalism to the otherwise nationalistic Muslims of Kosovo. In truth, the book is about a foreign correspondent’s uncomfortable personal connections with the society he covers and his realization that they’re the only things keeping him from despair at his ever-shabbier trade. Read more...

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