Excerpt from The Distance Between Us by Masha Hamilton, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Distance Between Us

by Masha Hamilton

The Distance Between Us
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  • First Published:
    Nov 2004, 304 pages
    Paperback:
    Oct 2005, 304 pages

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In the front passenger seat, Sven pats the video camera on his lap and chats to the driver in sunny, Swedish-accented Arabic. Long-limbed, he seems as comfortable as he would in his own living room. He’s the most easy-going and polite of journalists, with an uncommon ability to nap anywhere on short notice. Caddie often runs into Rob and Sven on the same story. Privately she’s nicknamed them Yin and Yang.

They pull up short before a barrier of razor wire and man-sized chunks of concrete spray-painted black with Arabic graffiti. A Yaladi roadblock. She didn’t expect it this soon. The driver cuts the engine and the air grows defiantly still. The dust finally gives up and sinks.

A slouching man with a knife tucked into his belt separates himself from a concrete slab, sticks out a hand to collect their press cards, and then, self-important on squat legs, strides into a hut. A second roadside militiaman, baby face and pear belly, plants himself next to their Land Rover, machine gun cradled in his arms.

Caddie brushes the dust from her hair. She wishes again that she were more familiar with this route from Beirut to the south. They are probably twenty miles from the border with Israel, twenty miles from the Mediterranean Sea. The land is scraped and stingy, abandoned even by animals and insects, left to these imprudent men with their weapons.

"One-two-’twas brillig and the slithy toves …" Rob intones into his microphone.

"You’re going to drain the battery before we get there," Sven says.

"Something’s wrong with the goddamned pinch roller," Rob says. "If I don’t get the interview on tape, I might as well have slept in, saved myself this cowboy ride." Incessant worrying over the equipment, Caddie knows, is part of his routine. She has habits of her own. During interviews, she often makes up a ridiculous question or two that she would never actually ask, then imagines her subject’s response. It’s oddly soothing.

"You worry too much," Marcus says. "If the pitch is off, it’s so slight no one will notice."

"Hey, bud, I don’t worry enough," Rob says. "Otherwise I wouldn’t be in the middle of fucking East Jesus letting some monkey point his gun at me."

Their guard has begun shifting gently from foot to foot, swinging his weapon as if in time to music. Watching him, Caddie almost hears her ballet teacher’s shrill military voice: "One, two, on your toes, lift your head." She’d been, what? Eight, maybe nine years old, and remarkably clumsy, all clashing elbows and difficult knees. "Again, from the top. Let’s plié …" She pictures this bulky militiaman, with his unexpected Santa Claus- face, wearing a pink tutu. As he sways next to the hunks of ruined concrete, she is struck by a single, distinct wave she can identify only as elation.

How could she ever explain to someone back home what it is to cover a conflict? At least one like this that crisscrosses through the region, its frontline changing daily, so that she can find herself unexpectedly in it at a moment’s notice. Everyone with a television set observes the violence and horror. But, sitting on their couches, can they imagine the delight of unexpected absurdities? The rush of ecstasy, even, when the exotic intersects with the familiar? Or the way that seeing all this, up close, elevates a common life?

"I have an idea for dinner tonight," Marcus says near her ear.

"I’m filing tonight," Caddie says. "And you’d better be sending a couple pictures."

"That’ll take half an hour. As for you, what? A couple quotes from the drug lord, a little local color from his hideout. You could almost write it now." Marcus shifts in his seat and pulls a crumpled receipt from his back pocket. "Here."

"I’ve got paper, thanks."

From The Distance Between Us by Masha Hamilton.  Copyright 2004.  All rights reserved.  No part of this book maybe reproduced without written permission from the publisher, Unbridled Books.

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