The tale that Lynda Schuster told is nothing like the stories she wrote before.
Within “Dirty Wars and Polished Silver: The Life and Times of a War Correspondent Turned Ambassatrix,” the longtime writer and current Pittsburgh resident takes readers on a 352-page tour of her childhood in Detroit and teenage escape to an Israeli kibbutz, her subsequent years overseas as a foreign correspondent and finally her most recent role as the wife of Dennis Jett, a U.S. ambassador.
For Schuster, publishing the journey is a somewhat familiar task. As a former reporter, many of her life’s moments have been penned for print in The Wall Street Journal and The Christian Science Monitor. What “Dirty Wars” does, though, is spin the ink on those days. As opposed to asking others for their impressions of battle, catastrophe and despair, Schuster spends her pages revisiting harrowing incidents and looking inward.
That process, of altering her perspective from professional to personal, was challenging, she said.
“One of the first things you learn in journalism school is to develop an allergy to the first-person pronoun; and obviously, the whole point of a memoir, unless you’re writing it about someone who is close to you, is that it’s all about yourself.”
“Dirty Wars” isn’t Schuster’s first crack at the first person. Her previous pieces have appeared in Granta, Utne Reader and The New York Times Magazine, among others. What distinguishes “Dirty Wars,” though, is Schuster’s chance to expound on those earlier efforts, even if they invoke painful memories.
Throughout the text, Schuster shares her parents’ divorce, the death of her first husband (Los Angeles Times correspondent Dial Torgerson) and detailed insights into the realities of war.
Her sources in revisiting those periods were not only recollections, some of which are “etched indelibly,” she explained, but also personal connections from those days, as well as decades-old correspondence, newspaper clippings, notes from her reporting trips and diaries written during her second husband’s stints in Mozambique and Peru.
“As a journalist in a live interview, often you have to rely on people’s memories and how they recall a certain incident. It was interesting to be on the other side of the looking glass,” she said.
The curiosity of the experience was that “as a journalist, you sit there and, basically, you don’t interrogate because that’s a little too harsh; you try to pick people’s brains. To be on the other side of that process was quite enlightening, and I think I will be much easier on my victims going forward,” she added.
Since Schuster’s book release last summer, she has spent considerable time sharing stories of both her prior days abroad and more recent authorial activities. Those seeking to learn more about the University of Michigan graduate are encouraged to attend her Nov. 16 talk at Rodef Shalom Congregation in Shadyside.
Schuster, 61, will kick off the 2017-2018 series: “A Conversation with the Author.” The five-part program, which in each installment boasts an author presentation, a question-and-answer session and a book signing, is operating in conjunction with the Jewish Book Council, said Seth Glick, network coordinator.
Founded in 1944, though with origins dating to 1925, the Jewish Book Council is an organization that, along with other managerial duties, promotes “the reading, writing, publishing and distribution of quality Jewish content books in English.”
Schuster’s Shadyside event at Rodef Shalom is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. Glick and Schuster said that the evening should be enjoyable and entertaining.
“Lynda wrote a fun, action-packed memoir, and she will share many of the stories from her book. She is a dynamic speaker and brings a journalist’s eye to detail,” noted Glick.
“I think if you look at the voice of the book, it is very humorous, and if you can laugh in the face of adversity it’s helpful,” said Schuster.
However, while those who attend the Nov. 16 program should prepare for some chuckling, they should also be ready for a little learning.
“I think they’ll hear about the genesis of the book, how I came to write it and how the book came to take the form that it did,” Schuster said. “I think they’ll get an insight.” PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at areinherz