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AMBUSHED by Ian Stewart


A War Reporter’s Life on the Line

by Ian Stewart

Pub Date: Oct. 4th, 2002
ISBN: 1-56512-380-8
Publisher: Algonquin

Well-executed, troubling account of a foreign correspondent’s addiction to combat zones.

Canadian-born Stewart, currently a fellow at Stanford, begins with a chilling portrait of his January 1999 encounter with a rebel in Freetown, Sierra Leone, who machine-gunned a government convoy, killing Stewart’s Associated Press colleague Myles Tierney and leaving Stewart with a bullet lodged in his brain. He then backtracks, describing his formative years as a journalist. After a dull start at the Toronto Star, he traveled to Asia for a more exciting beat with the Hong Kong Standard and UPI. He portrays an environment suited to hungry young reporters; by 27, he was UPI’s New Delhi bureau chief. His initial experiences in war zones—Indian snipers fired on him in Kashmir; in Afghanistan, he was briefly detained as a possible spy—caused him to crave more action, which he found as AP’s West African bureau chief. Based in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, he was shocked by the region’s absurd bureaucracies and desperate poverty: “On almost every street, I was swarmed by clusters of scurrying little urchins.” To Stewart’s credit, his experiences covering Africa’s forgotten yet brutal conflicts cause him to question the atavistic career-mindedness that seemingly motivates war journalists. He recalls horrific scenes of torture, rape, summary execution, warfare conducted by children, and terrorist maimings, yet he indicates that Western approaches to such stories have accomplished little regarding the depredations of strongmen like Nigeria’s Sani Abacha and groups like Sierra Leone’s Revolutionary United Front, renowned for their cruelty. Following Stewart’s injury, his AP colleagues arranged his evacuation via Swiss air ambulance to London, where a top neurosurgeon gave him a 20% chance of survival. The final third of his memoir depicts his difficult return to health, portraying both the support offered by his family and friends and his personal disorientation and anguish regarding the death of his friend Myles.

Dramatic and impressive, calling into question the voyeuristic war reporting of media conglomerates.