storytellerIN BRIEF:

The harrowing, yet unsentimental account of a foreign correspondent’s four years on the beat in Asia for the ABC, juggling the coverage of disasters (man-made and natural) with domestic life as the mother of two young children.

Details, details:

ISBN: 9780733332319
ISBN 10: 0733332315
Imprint: ABC Books – AU
On Sale: 24/02/2014
Pages: 304
List Price: 29.99 AUD (p’back)

What the back cover says:

Zoe Daniel is the ABC’s fifteenth South East Asia Correspondent, and one of only a handful of women to combine one of the most dangerous jobs in the world with one of the most demanding – motherhood.

From the political unrest in Bangkok and the bittersweet story of conjoined twins in India, to a tragic plane crash in Laos and the destruction of typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, Storyteller is a frank and brave memoir, as much about the events that capture our attention as it is about a personal story of the universal juggle of work, ambition and family amid the unpredictability of life and the predictability of the 24/7 media cycle.

My thoughts:

I have this recurring nightmare where I am a TV journalist (which I used to be) and I can’t meet the story deadline.

I’m working and working, but things get in the way and I just can’t get the damn story done. Apart from the nightmare about failing my final school exams, it is my most common (bad) dream. Testament, I think, to the stress of a job which I loved, but haven’t worked in now for nearly a decade.

In the television world, missing a deadline by even a few seconds is failure. The story’s either ready or it’s not. And if it’s not, you’re in for a huge bollocking. Maybe even sacking. It’s high stakes. High pressure. High stress.

Perhaps this is why I’ve been resisting Storyteller for so long – not wanting to embroil myself in those feelings again. That, and the sense that maybe there wouldn’t be anything ‘new’ for me to discover in it, given that I had worked in the industry.

Oh, what a fool!

There is so much to learn from this book, not the least of which concerns the varying political environments of Asia with its military juntas, regular coups and occasional dictators. That, in itself, is fascinating enough. Then, there are the terrible natural disasters that Daniel is called upon to cover – the Bangkok floods and Typhoon Haiyan – one of the strongest tropical cyclones’ ever recorded. And, there are the personal stories – the brutal gang rape and murder of a 16 year old Indian girl that turned international spotlight on India’s treatment of women – and the ground-breaking separation of Indian conjoined twins, Aradhana and Stuti.

Daniel does and covers it all, and she does it against the backdrop of a domestic life that provides its own challenges. Every time she says good-bye to jet off to yet another disaster zone, Daniel must farewell her two young children, Arkie and Pearl, who are far from impressed with their mother’s job as a leading foreign correspondent. At times, doing both seems impossible, particularly when a much-hyped birthday cake gets burned.

I throw the empty cake tin across the kitchen and burst into tears. My head is full of people smugglers and asylum seekers and poverty and desperation and the fact that I can’t fix any of it, and now also of how I’ve stuffed up our family weekend, not to mention Rowan’s birthday cake. I’m a terrible mother.

Daniel writes like a reporter – simple and sincere. Her descriptions of complex political situations are clear and precise, and her recounts of personal crises (such as miscarrying twins while in a Burmese airport toilet) are moving for their unadorned honesty.

Losing a baby in a toilet in an airport in West Burma is not a place I ever thought I would be.

But a book calls for more – and Daniel also shows, in passages, that she can write with the creative flair required to sustain such a lengthy narrative.

We land to the red-gold sharpness of autumn. The leaves have fallen in the parks, crimson against emerald green, the sun is soft, and they sky is crystal blue and clear. 

Daniel’s pull between her children and her job is, at times, heartbreaking, but Daniel doesn’t complain, nor does she quite explain why the job holds such appeal. Some of the stories she covers are, quite literally, the stuff of nightmares.

Perhaps the answer actually lies in an interview Daniel herself does with Burmese democracy activist, Aung San Suu Kyi, who spent more than a decade under house arrest for her beliefs.

In interview, Daniel asked about the sacrifice she had made.

I think it is a little vain to see it as a sacrifice. What sacrifice? I decided to do this. Nobody forced me to do this. I did what I did because I believed in it, so it was a choice. A choice is quite different from a sacrifice.

To read a free sample, or to purchase the book, visit Harper Collins

 

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