Under the Wire: Marie Colvin's Final Assignment by Paul Conroy

I must live in a hole because I had never heard of Marie Colvin or at least never paid any attention to who she was. Under the Wire: Marie Colvin’s Final Assignment by Paul Conroy sheds light on who Marie Colvin was and how she died covering the Syrian Civil War.

Here is a brief synopsis of the book from the publisher Weinstein Books:

Under the WireMarie Colvin was an internationally recognized American foreign war correspondent who was killed in a rocket attack in 2012 while reporting on the suffering of civilians inside Syria. She was renowned for her iconic flair and her fearlessness: wearing the pearls that were a gift from Yasser Arafat and her black eye-patch, she reported from places so dangerous no other hard-core correspondent would dare to go. Paul Conroy, who had forged a close bond with Colvin as they put their lives on the line time and time again to report from the world’s conflict zones, was with her when she died.

Under the Wire is Paul’s gripping, visceral, and moving account of their friendship and the final year he spent alongside her. When Marie and Paul were smuggled into Syria by rebel forces, they found themselves trapped in one of the most hellish neighborhoods on earth. Fierce barrages of heavy artillery fire rained down on the buildings surrounding them, killing and maiming hundreds of civilians. Marie was killed by a rocket which also blew hole in Paul’s thigh big enough to put his hand through. Bleeding profusely, short of food and water, and in excruciating pain, Paul then endured five days of intense bombardment before being evacuated in a daring escape in which he rode a motorbike through a tunnel, crawled through enemy terrain, and finally scaled a 12-foot-high wall. Astonishingly vivid, heart-stoppingly dramatic and shot through with dark humor, in Under the Wire Paul Conroy shows what it means to a be a war reporter in the 21st century. His is a story of two brave people drawn together by a shared compulsion to bear witness.

The book is generally written in chronological order beginning with Conroy and Colvin’s initial entrance into Syria and ending with Conroy’s escape from Syria. Conroy has flashbacks to his first interaction with Colvin in Syria in 2003 when the invasion of Iraq by the United States was about to begin and their adventures in Libya covering the uprising against Muammar Gaddafi. He describes how their professional relationship matured under fire.

I have not read any other books by war correspondents. So, I do not know what others correspondents’ experiences are like, but Conroy conveys the hard life that he and Colvin endured to get “the story.” They often went on reduced food rations and dodged bullets and rpgs directed at the forces they were with or sometimes directly at them. The dedication to getting the truth out is pretty amazing.

Although Conroy is clearly on the side of the Free Syrian Army due to the atrocities committed by Assad and his forces, the book does make you think about U.S. policy regarding Syria. Obviously, the debate on what to do (and what should have been done) can go forever, I do not think anyone would agree that it is right to kill civilians that are just trying to stay out of the fighting. Conroy not only tells the story of Colvin’s coverage of the civil war, but he also portrays the vivid reality of living in an area that is under constant attack – where death can occur at any moment.

Conroy describes the close relationship between he and Colvin and the Free Syrian Army. Countless times the Free Syrian Army risked their lives to protect Conroy and Colvin as they were either getting into Baba Amr (Homs neighborhood under attack) or covering the effects of the fighting on the civilian population.

This book is a great read for anyone interested in war correspondents and the risks they take to get a story.

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