Excerpt from In Extremis by Lindsey Hilsum, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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In Extremis

The Life and Death of the War Correspondent Marie Colvin

by Lindsey Hilsum

In Extremis by Lindsey Hilsum X
In Extremis by Lindsey Hilsum
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  • First Published:
    Nov 2018, 400 pages
    Paperback:
    Nov 2019, 416 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Karen Lewis
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Print Excerpt

1.
Dead Man's Branch

She had lived with bad dreams for many years, but nothing prepared Marie for the recurrent nightmare that plagued her after she was shot. As she drifted into sleep, her subconscious reran what had happened, the fear and indecision never resolving, like a horror film stuck on a loop, repeating into infinity.

In the dream, she is lying on the ground, seeing the flares, hearing the machine-gun fire and the soldiers' voices exactly as she heard them that pitch-black night in Sri Lanka before the moon rose over the fields. These are her choices: She can stand up and shout, hoping they will see that she is white and female, obviously a foreigner. She can try to crawl away, knowing they will shoot at anything they see moving. Or she can lie still, awaiting her fate. The decision will determine whether she lives or dies, but nothing will undo what is about to happen. She cannot roll back time, nor can she push it forward. Stand up? Crawl away? Lie still? Stand up? Crawl away? Lie still? The choices repeat and repeat, a drumbeat of fear pounding louder and louder, as she lies paralyzed.

In real life, it was hard to figure out exactly what was happening, although later, she understood that it had been quite simple. The Tamils guiding her from the rebel-held part of Sri Lanka into government territory ran into an army patrol as they crossed the front line. Marie dropped to the ground as the bullets whined past, but her escorts fled into the jungle, back the way they had come. She lay there for about half an hour, alone and petrified, before making her fateful decision.

"Journalist! American journalist!" she shouted as she rose with her hands up. Suddenly her eye and her chest hurt with a pain so acute she could scarcely breathe. One of the soldiers had fired a grenade at her. As she fell, she realized that blood was trickling from her eye and mouth. She felt a profound sadness that she was going to die. Crawling toward them in the desperate hope that they would stop shooting and help her, she shouted, "Doctor!" Maybe they would see that she was a wounded foreign civilian and not a guerrilla fighter. They yelled at her to stand up and remove her jacket. Somehow she managed to stumble forward, hands in the air. Every time she fell, they shouted at her to get up again.

In the nightmare, time freezes before the shot is fired and her life passes before her. Scenes from conflicts she has witnessed flicker across her mind: the old man with rasping breath in the basement in Chechnya, the back of his head blown off by a Russian rocket; the body of a peasant dressed in a worn woollen suit she came across under a bush in Kosovo; the young Palestinian woman she watched die from gunshot wounds in Beirut. The human body, fragile and broken. Her own body. The images rerun until she wakes, unrested, terrified, safe in her own bed but dreading the next night, when she must live through it all again.

Marie Colvin went to Sri Lanka in April 2001 because no foreign journalist had reported from Tamil Tiger territory in six years. In nearly two decades of war, some 83,000 people had been killed. Barred by the government and mistrusted by the fanatical guerrillas fighting for independence, reporters had dared not cross the front line, so the pitiful situation of Tamil civilians, who bore the brunt of the violence, had gone largely unreported. That was why she went. That was why she thought it worth the risk.

She was flown to New York for treatment. The surgeon said he couldn't save the sight in her left eye, but he would try to save the eye itself. Frantic with worry, her mother insisted Marie come home to Long Island, where she could nurse her, cook her the meat loaf she had loved as a child, ensure that she had everything she needed to recover. Marie's ex-husband flew in, and he and her mother agreed that this time she would have to submit to their ministrations.

Excerpted from In Extremis by Lindsey Hilsum. Copyright © 2018 by Lindsey Hilsum. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus & Giroux. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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