A good tale based on experience

by | Mar 25, 2016 | Book Reviews

The War Reporter
Martin Fletcher
St Martin’s Press, 2015
306pp., $25.99

Martin Fletcher, former NBC Middle East correspondent and Tel Aviv Bureau chief, won the American National Book Award in 2010 for Walking Israel: A Personal Search for the Soul of a Nation and received the Jewish National Book Award for his first novel, The List (Jewish News 2012), an evocative tale of two Holocaust survivors immediately after the conclusion of WWII.

Fletcher’s new novel, The War Reporter, is an ambitious undertaking, based on real experience and events in those Balkan states we can never quite distinguish from each other. Now, two decades after a major incursion by the United States as part of a NATO coalition, we need to recall reports of ethnic cleansing, mass rape and massacre, in places like Srebrenica, Sarajevo and Kosovo—but they continue to remain a confusing blur to most Americans. Those of us who were in school in the 1940’s believed there was a country called Yugoslavia. Now we learn that there never was such a place; Yugoslavia was a made up attempt to nationalize the disparate nations of Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and several nation-states in the region under the dictatorship of Josip Broz Tito.

Fletcher’s novel, riveting at times, takes us through the eyes of Tom Layne, a highly regarded TV journalist, to the heart of the war itself. The traditional sanctity of the press is no more. The daily demands of the TV news cycle have necessitated the embedding of correspondents with combat forces. The occasional fatality experienced in prior wars (we remember Ernie Pyle, killed by a Japanese sniper in WWII ) has given way to the deaths of hundreds of correspondents and photographers, men and women, and Layne and his team are devastated by the brutal killing of his protégé, Nick, and the rape of his interpreter, Nina.

Fifteen years later, Tom returns to Bosnia and Serbia determined to track down war criminal Ratko Mladic, and to create a documentary that would bring a form of closure to his feeling of guilt over the past. Reunited with Nina (spoiler: yes, they fall in love), they are propelled into a chaotic chase, replete with physical danger, political maneuvering, and betrayal.

Fletcher spins a good tale and the careful reader may actually begin to figure out who is who and what is where in the Balkan quagmire. Although not quite as tightly written as The List, The War Reporter doesn’t disappoint and is lent credibility by the author’s own experience in several combat areas, including time with rebel forces in Afghanistan, in Bosnia, and both the first and second Intifadas in Israel.