February Books 16) The Kindness of Strangers, by Kate Adie

This is a gratifyingly entertaining book, starting with a chapter on student visits to Germany and Sweden in the late 1960s, and then going through Adie’s career as a BBC journalist who ended up specialising in conflict zones. The chapters on 1970s Northern Ireland and wartime Bosnia rang very true to me; the chapter on Libya was horrifying, especially given what has happened since; the chapter on Tian-an-Men Square moved me to tears. Adie has an eye for the telling detail in he writing as well as in her broadcast reportage.

I did wonder a bit about the ideology of reporting. Adie claims firmly to aspire to be partly a conduit conveying what is happening on the ground to the viewer, and also a first emotional responder as it were, giving the viewers her own reaction. Yet that’s a little to modest; her emotional response inevitably shapes the viewer’s response, it’s not that they have a range of different options to choose from; and the stories that she finds, or is allowed to find, shape the popular narrative for the events that she is describing. I would have liked a little reflection on the role of the journalist as creator rather than mere reporter.

But basically the sheer thrill and horror of experiencing these events, be it desperate attempts to find anything reportable in the Durham countryside or flight through the back streets of Beijing under live fire, makes for a very readable book.