Ghosts by Daylight: A Memoir of War and Love

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Ghosts by Daylight: A Memoir of War and Love, Janine Di Giovanni, book reviewTwo war reporters decide to settle down to a more ordinary, domestic life, away from the world’s conflicts, in Paris. They are having a baby. This effort at normal life turns out to be more stressful for them both than they could have imagined.

Janine di Giovanni has had a long and successful career reporting conflicts around the world, including Sarajevo, Grozny, Pristina, Baghdad, Mogadishu, Algiers and many others. I remember reading her articles and finding them powerful and moving, and the content horrific. Yet she believed herself strong and resilient, untroubled by nightmares about the violence and tragedy she had witnessed, as did Bruno. It wasn’t until they embarked on marriage and parenthood in Paris that their experiences started to catch up with them.

Janine Di Giovanni has written several previous books of war reportage but this is a bit different. In part it is a love story, passionate and romantic but not soppy. Bruno is a charming, passionate lover who understands Janine’s unusual and challenging lifestyle because he shares it, but is that enough to make him ideal husband material?

Initially, I was not sure what I thought of this book, although I had wanted to read it for months and was thrilled when a copy arrived. Perhaps I had been expecting more continuity with the author’s earlier work, more about war. It does open with a chapter about how they met in Sarajevo, parted and got back together several times in different conflict zones, but the focus of the book is on very different battles. They have both been used to long periods apart working in different countries, and this is the first time they have really lived together. Then Janine has to get used to motherhood in Paris, and Bruno is trying to drown his demons with alcohol, then trying not to drink. Trying to get used to peacetime life, suddenly they are both haunted by nightmares about war and death.

In the end though, I found the book very moving, sometimes quite funny, often very sad.

The experience of having a baby and early parenthood is one of the main subjects of the book, which I found really interesting, as Di Giovanni recounts her difficult pregnancy, Luca’s premature birth, her feeling of being unable to protect her new son. She has conflicting advice on whether or not to breastfeed, as English friends assume she will want to and French hospital staff, friends and acquaintances suggest that bottle feeding is the way forward, better for her figure, work, relationship with her husband etc (I was glad that at this point she rebelled). She also writes of something that many mothers will recognise – the effect of becoming a mother on her relationship with her own mum. Her biggest problem though is that she becomes paranoid that something terrible will happen and she won’t be able to protect her son, hoarding food and mineral water in the way she might in a war zone.

I found the section of this memoir dealing with Bruno more difficult to read, a beautifully written but ever so sad account of a loving partner and father’s disintegration and battle with alcoholism.

Ghosts by Daylight is a raw and powerfully honest book by a talented observer of other people turning her skills to analysing herself, her life and those closest to her.

I look forward to reading Janine Di Giovanni’s books of reportage, but this is a fantastic story of a complex relationship and of how scary new motherhood even for the most courageous of women.

Ghosts by Daylight: A Memoir of War and Love by Janine Di Giovanni
Published by Bloomsbury, July 2011
Thank you to Bloomsbury for sending Curious Book Fans a copy to review.

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Ghosts by Daylight: A Memoir of War and Love
by Janine Di Giovanni

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Written by elkiedee

My name is Luci and I live in North London with Mike and our two little boys - Danny is 4 and Conor is 2. I'm trying very hard to bring up two little bookworms, with some success so far. I work full time and at weekends the little monsters like to hang out in the park, but otherwise I spend every spare minute reading and talking about books online. I read a variety of books but particularly like crime fiction, literary novels and short stories, women's writing, biographies and memoirs, and social history. My many many favourite authors include Barbara Comyns, Anne Tyler, Katherine Mansfield, Toni Cade Bambara, Diana Wynne Jones, Denise Mina, Ian Rankin, John Harvey and George Pelecanos.

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