Wrenching novel peeks into photojournalist's life 

Lucky's Poetic, Angry foreign correspondent goes behind enemy lines

click to enlarge BC Book Prize-winning author Kathryn Para is at this year's Readers and Writers Festival.
  • BC Book Prize-winning author Kathryn Para is at this year's Readers and Writers Festival.

Whistler hosts the 2014 Readers and Writers Festival from Oct. 17 to 19. Pique will be running reviews of books by attending authors to celebrate. For more information on the festival and tickets: www.whistlerreadersandwritersfestival.com.

Lucky explores the impact of war on those who bring it into our living rooms — the foreign correspondents. The novel is divided into two sections: 2004 and 2006.

2006: Ani, a photojournalist is home after a stint in the Middle East. The pictures she's taken, the experiences she's had, and the disappearance of her friend, Viva, reoccur as grainy images haunting her.

Living in her native Vancouver, Ani has to reconcile her life now with the adrenalin-filled one she led in the Middle East. Hooked on adrenalin then, hooked on the "V-drug" now; Vodka.

We get some insight, into how Ani feels about being home, with passages such as this: "Claire's parties are as bland as the house — cream and taupe on the walls, chocolate leather, cappuccino and cream carpet. Silk drapes, wool carpet, mahogany, marble, thread counts and empty calories. Everything beautifully immoral."

Para's descriptions, whether in the Middle East or in someone's living room, are evocative and powerfully telling, putting the reader directly into each scene.

2004: this section of the book is told in third person. We watch Ani at some distance as she develops her friendship with Viva. "In Beirut the figs are like heroin. The sticky sweetness, the juice that runs to my elbows, the ruby belly of the fruit in my mouth. Viva, handing me another and another, handing me figs like an offering of family, an offering of love. I miss the curls of her hair, the shape of her face. If I gouged out my eyes, I would still see her and so I don't."

Other characters come into focus: Alex, a Reuter's journalist, Nadeem, Viva's cousin. We see and experience how events conspire to drive Ani, Viva and Alex. Each has their reason for being in Fallujah.

As the story unfolds in 2004, we get clues as to why Ani is broken and lost in 2006. Para shows us what it means to come home to a place where things like peace and security are taken for granted and people here are oblivious to how others live over there.

Insecurity, violence and war happen in other countries. Yes, it's terrible to see the images on our television screens, but they have little to do with us. Those things happen elsewhere. Not here. We watch unmoved.

It's impossible to remain unmoved by Lucky. Ani's damaged voice — poetic, angry and gutsy — is forever prevalent. We are in her body, experiencing her inability to let go of what happened in Fallujah. She hasn't lost an arm, or a leg, or experienced another visible physical injury. She holds a different form of trauma; one that is often misunderstood and poorly treated.

It is difficult to empathize with Ani's self-destructive behaviour, yet in Para's skilful hands, we come to understand, and hope for her.

Para has given readers a claustrophobically close look into a world we don't often see in fiction: the embedded journalist's life during and after they come home.

Stella Harvey is the executive director of the Whistler Readers and Writers Festival.

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