London Times journalist Ayres reluctantly joins the “elite, noble, and fucked-up profession” of Middle East war correspondent in this report from the frontlines.
Awoken at 6:30 in the morning, the author learns that his editor at the Times, a former foreign correspondent and a titan in the field, wants him to go to war. Ayres, too, is a foreign correspondent: he files stories on celebrity life in Los Angeles. Still, he does not want to let the boss down, nor lose his job. “Yes! Love to!” he blurts. Since he is embedded for a mere nine days, much of this memoir concerns how Ayres happened to arrive there in the first place. After all, here is a guy who started out his journalistic career as a financial writer—and a fraud at that, he admits, since he knew diddly about economics—before moving on to the celebrity circuit in LA. Not before witnessing the September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and experiencing the anthrax craze that followed, however; both receive excellent, sinewy coverage here. Then this self-described clumsy geek hypochondriac with panic attacks gets the wake-up call, and he caves before his best instincts, scared that another will take his place and shine, scared of squandering the opportunity so many journalists desire. Outside Baghdad, waiting to die as Iraqi tanks bear down on his storm-stuck Humvee, Ayres berates himself for the cowardice of letting his journalist’s ego get the upper hand, for a selfishness that would cause his loved ones great and lasting pain. While these moments of bitterness claw at his soul, he delivers a first-rate glimpse of how terrifying are the wages of war, and not just the carnage and doom: the first time he needs to use the field as a toilet, he squats directly over a tarantula’s nest.
Ayres a coward? Come on, give the guy a medal.