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Esquire
Wednesday, January 26th, 2005


 

Hello to All That: A Memoir of War, Zoloft, and Peace

by John Falk

The War, On Drugs

A review by Anna Godbersen

War reporters score high in the brave and crazy departments. Brave, obviously, because they travel to the world's most dangerous places to spread information to the rest of us cosseted folk, but a little bit nuts yet for building a career on horror. But when John Falk traveled to war ravaged Bosnia in August of 1993, he was another kind of crazy, too: He was heavily medicated on Zoloft. In his mid-twenties, the medication had finally drawn him out of a clinical depression that had crippled him for years, and he was left hungry for experience. During his depression, he found solace in books, and in particular the work of war reporters. Now ready to get on with his life, he decides that Sarajevo is where his has to go, and he makes it in with a cleverly finagled letter of accreditation, and an equally finagled year's supply of Zoloft. His DIY approach to war reporting is frightening at first, but he is soon filing daily radio reports and scouting for the big story. He is taken in by the goodly Nonovich family, and makes friends with other freelance reporters in the city, who, as it turns out, he has a lot in common with. They were there "for the same damn reason I was," Falk writes, "We couldn't make it in the everyday world and had come to the edge looking for something more."

Hello to All That has the dry wit of many a depressive ("It was hard to envision being blown to pieces while sleeping beneath an autographed headshot of Luke Perry," etc.), and it is always vivid and absorbing. Falk alternates chapters on his experiences in Bosnia and chapters on the history of his depression, so that the psychological circumstances of his departure are not fully understood until the book's end. This (along with the carefully re-crafted dialogue) gives it the build of a novel, and like a lot of novels, Falk's book begins with despair and ends in marriage. It is a brave look back at a few of the many variations of hell.


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