Book Review: “Adventures in Correspondentland” by Nick Bryant

January 7, 2012 in Book Reviews, Reviews by pacejmiller

Here’s another book I read for a trade publication review.

Adventures in Correspondentland is written by BBC foreign correspondent Nick Bryant, who has been all around the world over the last 10-15 years, from London to Washington DC, Pakistan to India, Afghanistan to Guantanamo Bay, and finally, Sydney, his adopted home of the past five years (he married Aussie designer Fleur Wood).  He has also witnessed some of the defining moments of our time, including the death of Princess Diana, the impeachment of President Bill Clinton, 9/11 and the Boxing Day Tsunami.

Naturally, I was very excited about this book.  While not wanting to be a foreign correspondent (you really have to have a passion for on-call travel and frontline news), I was fascinated by the stories Bryant has to tell, the things he has seen and heard, the experiences he has had.  I had expected it to be a light-hearted, quirky, humorous kind of book (I mean, just take a look at the title and the cover), which has been described as “part memoir, part travelogue and part polemic”.

However, I was surprised by how relatively serious this book was for most of its 431 pages.  Of course, there were a lot of serious issues, from human rights abuses to mass deaths and child prostitution, but I expected a lighter, more fly-on-the-wall narrative strewn with funny vignettes.  There were a couple of good ones, such as when Clinton had to present a journalism award to the reporter who discovered the existence of Monic Lewinsky’s infamous “soiled” blue dress, or John Howard’s bewildered reaction when Bryant tried to speak to him after Howard’s crushing defeat to K-Rudd.

Bryant also came across as a little cynical, which is hard not to be when you’re a seasoned veteran of the news circuit.  But he does display an uncanny self-awareness of the emotional conflicts journalists often face, where a horrible human tragedy might simultaneously present the biggest break of their careers.  How does one feel or react?  Is it wrong to even feel a tiny sliver of exhilaration?  Those were the things I was most fascinated with.

Perhaps because it was part memoir, part travelogue and part polemic, there was a rather uneven tone for the first half of the book.  At times Bryant was an objective journalist reporting on events with little emotion, which made him bizarrely distant from the narrative, but at other times Bryant would suddenly become extremely personal and the story would become all about him.  It created a strange effect because Bryant is obviously a very articulate and skilled writer at the sentence level.

It wasn’t until Bryant settled in Australia that he seemed to settle down and became more comfortable with himself and his writing.  Or maybe it’s just because chronologically speaking, Australia is closest to the forefront of his memory.  Either way, Bryant’s single chapter on Australia was my highlight of the book.  From the death of Steven Irwin (which happened only days after he touched down) to the plight of Indigenous Australians to the day Kevin Rudd said “Sorry”, Bryant offers some absolutely fascinating insights into the Australian psyche.

As a Pom and a relative outsider, Bryant discusses the strange position Australia holds in the world, explores Australia’s undercurrent of racism and is not shy about serving up his unflattering opinion of K-Rudd, whom he describes as the “most singularly charmless of men: unpleasant, intellectually superior and seemingly devoid of lightness or humour.” (And this was before he became Prime Minister…remember the Kevin ’07 T-shirts?).  From Shane Warne to Kylie Minogue, from Pauline Hanson to Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott, everyone gets a little page time.

After the Australian chapter, Bryant brings all his experiences together and looks forward to the future, touching on the impact of technology on the news industry.  There is also a very personal postscript about the birth of Bryant’s first child and the latest world developments, including the death of Osama Bin Laden and the Japanese Tsunamis.  Interestingly, I found these three chapters to be the strongest of the book.

On the whole, an insightful and sporadically interesting read.  Not quite what I expected but I did learn a lot from it.

3 out of 5