Dirty Wars and Polished Silver:
The Life and Times of a War Correspondent Turned Ambassatrix
by Lynda Schuster
Hardcover: 352 pages
Publisher: Melville House (July 18, 2017)
From a former Wall Street Journal foreign correspondent, an exuberant memoir of life, love, and transformation on the frontlines of conflicts around the world
Growing up in 1970s Detroit, Lynda Schuster felt certain life was happening elsewhere. And as soon as she graduated from high school, she set out to find it.
Dirty Wars and Polished Silver is Schuster’s story of her life abroad as a foreign correspondent in war-torn countries, and, later, as the wife of a U.S. Ambassador. It chronicles her time working on a kibbutz in Israel, reporting on uprisings in Central America and a financial crisis in Mexico, dodging rocket fire in Lebanon, and grieving the loss of her first husband, a fellow reporter, who was killed only ten months after their wedding.
But even after her second marriage, to a U.S. diplomat, all the black-tie parties and personal staff and genteel “Ambassatrix School” grooming in the world could not protect her from the violence of war.
Equal parts gripping and charming, Dirty Wars and Polished Silver is a story about one woman’s quest for self-discovery—only to find herself, unexpectedly, more or less back where she started: wiser, saner, more resolved. And with all her limbs intact.
“A riveting international thriller…A page-turner thanks to lucid writing and thrilling storytelling.” —Kirkus, starred review
“Dirty Wars and Polished Silver is the fabulously entertaining story of Lynda Schuster’s adventures as a foreign correspondent and wife of a U. S. diplomat. It captures all the glamour, intrigue, love, and, yes, loss that’s to be found in a life lived on the frontlines, but it’s also a deliciously fun (and funny!) story of transformation. A delight from start to finish.” —Valerie Plame Wilson, author of Fair Game
“For the armchair traveler and imagined war correspondent, and for anyone who misses the tropical non-paradises of Africa and Latin America that furnished the intrigues of Graham Greene, I heartily recommend Dirty Wars and Polished Silver. It throbs with the romance, and the anguish, of a life lived in excitement and in peril, tracking sundry and dubious American missions abroad.” —Roger Lowenstein, author of When Genius Failed and America’s Bank
“A wonderful, witty ride about hurtling towards happiness and embracing maturity. If you ever wondered: What do I want and how do I find joy? Dirty Wars and Polished Silver is a book for you.” —Sonia Nazario, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Enrique’s Journey
This summer I’ve been speaking— or trying to— with a British accent. I think it makes me intriguing… Last summer, it was a Brooklyn accent.
I have stubby legs, lank hair, an overbite. I wear pointy blue glasses with sparkles on them. Dad says, “Bev’s going to look like Sophia Loren when she grows up.” I ask, “Who am I going to look like?” He doesn’t answer.
Bubbe’s from the Old Country. She wears dentures that don’t fit very well and clicks them like castanets…. Zayde, my grandfather, stays quiet. He smells of Listerine and boiled cabbage. Little tufts of gray fur sprout from his ears.
I’m gobsmacked. It’s a word I’d been waiting all my life to use, but how often, truly, is one overcome by wonder?
The average age of the Watergate’s residents is around seventy-two, which explains the paucity of products to determine conception and the abundance of adult diapers and denture adhesives.
I shared the same coming of age era as Ms. Schuster, yet my life experiences were a non-event and pale vanilla in comparison to her adrenaline fueled near death encounters. Just the idea of the bird-sized insects and vermin alone raised my pulse rate. I so identified with her family dramas and autonomy issues; it was like we were living parallel lives thousands of miles apart despite being reared in vastly different cultures. Her fanciful imagination, wry humor, amusing observations, and acerbic inner musings frequently had me smirking. While I vaguely recall the conflicts and issues she lived through and chronicled from Beirut, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Africa, and Peru, my memories of the 70’s conjured up more news focus being placed on the horrid economy and Viet Nam. I totally adored her chapters on Dial and his swoon-worthy and romantic prose, sigh. Her recounting of his demise and the experience of escorting his body tore at my heart, requiring me to put my Kindle down for a bit. Her life was certainly adventurous, action-packed, and well-traveled. I don’t believe I would have survived the same experiences, or could have kept my snarky mouth closed or remained polite in the midst of the overt bigotry she endured, but then, I was never destined for a diplomatic posting of any sort and still feel oh so proud to have merely escaped the inbred hillbilly haven of my youth.
Lynda Schuster is a former foreign correspondent for The Wall Street Journal and The Christian Science Monitor, who has reported from Central and South America, Mexico, the Middle East, and Africa. Her writing has appeared in Granta, Utne Reader, The Atlantic Monthly, and The New York Times Magazine, among other. She lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and daughter.
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