Filmmaker and former PBS foreign correspondent Farnsworth makes her literary debut in an impressionistic memoir that moves back and forth through time from her childhood in Topeka, Kansas, to her work in “conflicted places” such as Cambodia, Chile, Haiti, Saudi Arabia, and Vietnam.
The narrative also moves in and out of reality and imagination: as the author reveals in the last pages of the book, one of the surreal childhood events she narrates never happened. Her mother’s death, though, did occur, when she was 9, and the loss was shattering. Although Farnsworth knew her mother was suffering, her father told her that her mother was “gone,” leading her to hope that she would return. Shortly after her death, Farnsworth and her father traveled by train to California to visit relatives, and the child searched for her mother every time the train stopped. In her dramatic rendering of the trip, their train becomes stranded in an avalanche in the Sierra Mountains, and she finds a white stallion, cared for by a cowboy, being transported to Los Angeles to perform in a TV series. These invented scenes—the author riding the powerful horse through the train’s cars and the train’s peril, which had occurred the year before—emphasize her emotional vulnerability at the time. Although the episode felt to her “as if it actually happened,” it confuses the narrative. Real peril occurred repeatedly in her work: she reports interviewing mothers of “disappeared” children in Chile; discovering that Nixon and Kissinger acted to undermine Allende and bolster Pinochet; interviewing leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood after 9/11; fearing for the safety of her crew while reporting from Israel and the West Bank; and reflecting on the morality of news reporting. “I don’t believe I have the right to decide what story is worth another person’s life,” she concludes.
Piecing together fragments of the past in this often moving memoir helps the author understand how she “found relief from self and sorrow by concentrating on the lives of others.”