St. Martin’s Press, 2003
This is a fairly powerful book about a TV war correspondent’s view of the initial Chechnya fighting in 1995. That timeframe has a certain attraction to me; after all, it was when I was living in Hamburg, but unlike the Balkans where I knew something was going on I was oblivious to this conflict as it boiled over into open violence.
It is a very personal story both in terms of being the author’s own memories as well as a large part of it revolves around the group of people he landed in the midst of in the small town of Samashki. On assignment to document “The Chechen Spirit” he finds himself shuttled into this town by the network of contacts who have brought him into the area and decides that there, in that small town, he would find what he was looking for. He does, and becomes involved, almost as a personal cameraman, with a small group of rebel fighters. Eventually the Russians come, but in the nick of time he leaves in order to get his story out but finds no takers. He returns a few days later as the town is essentially being wiped out, which he follows from behind a Russian barricade with other members of the western press, and then he continues chasing the war.
A few years later his work is nominated for a prize, and although he did not win it the organizer offers him an assignment to go back and try to find the leader of the group he was with now that “peace” had arrived and see what he is doing. As he arrives in the town he finds a population with a deep mistrust of him, and then learns that, since he spent all his time out with the people who were intended to protect the town and learned all of the defenses, then left, and then the Russians rolled in shortly after that the village considers him to have been a spy, and forced the man who he had followed to leave.
He tracks him down several thousand miles away and meets him, gets the story directly from him, and though the meeting is warm and friendly he finds himself suddenly cognizant that his activities of observing truly did have an impact on the observed, and this is the strength of the book.