Tuesday, May 1, 2007

In praise of intrepid female reporters and their incredible stories

I once briefly flirted with the idea of a career in journalism but concluded it was far too stressful. And so I remain in awe of reporters who are not only wonderful writers but really go after those tough and yet important stories that need to be told. There probably isn't a Canadian journalist who I admire more than Stephanie Nolen of The Globe and Mail. I briefly met her a few years ago when she wrote Shakespeare's Face and was amazed at how she turned this incredible story about a painting that just might be of Shakespeare into an engaging and completely fascinating book about art forensics and the debates behind the various images of the Bard. Now she's written an engrossing and compelling book about one of the most heartbreaking epidemics in the world today. 28: Stories of AIDS in Africa (one for each of the 28 million people who are fighting HIV/AIDS on that continent) is especially relentless in its focus on how the disease is affecting women and children. The cultural shame that is associated with AIDS is particularly hard on women, many of whom are beaten and shunned by their families even if they were unknowingly infected by their husbands. And yet the energy and support they are giving to hundreds of other women in the same situations, and their advocacy work for further education and access to drugs, is incredibly inspiring. Some of the people Nolen profiles include a truck driver who admits to sleeping with 100,000 women, a young boy who wants so badly to advance into the next grade at school but is always too sick to write the year-end exams, and the winner of Botswana's Miss HIV Stigma-Free Beauty Pageant. There are people who are living in war zones, who are desperately sick and those who are not only courageously battling their own illnesses, but also taking care of whole communities. This is a truly important book and I urge everyone to get their hands on a copy and read it.
Next on my reading list will be The Russian Diary by Anna Politkovskaya, which we've only just published. Anna was murdered shortly after finishing the manuscript of this book which is a critical look at how Vladimir Putin's presidency has corrupted and destroyed many Russian lives. Someone obviously didn't want this book published - I think while reading it, I'll be getting alternatively angry and reaching for a box of kleenex at the same time. I'll blog more about it when I'm done.
There are two other books I want to recommend. Witness by Ruth Gruber is a wonderful collection of photographs and essays by this incredible woman (still alive at 95) who was the youngest person ever to get her PhD (at the age of twenty! - she wrote her dissertation on Virginia Woolf) ) and who, at the age of twenty-four decided to travel to the Soviet Arctic to write about women who were taking on unconventional roles. Gruber was also instrumental in helping hundreds of Eastern European Jews escape Hitler and seek sanctuary in the U.S., and she spent years covering the plights of displaced refugees after the war. The book contains 190 of her photographs. Finally, I loved Caroline Moorehead's biography, Martha Gellhorn: A Life , the story of a fascinating woman who was also an intrepid war reporter and world traveller, but unfortunately seems to only be remembered for having been briefly married to Hemingway. The story of how she beat Ernest to France during WWII is absolutely delicious. This is definately a woman who deserves to be better known purely for her own amazing accomplishments!

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