Review by Donna Mitchell
Ghosts by Daylight: A Memoir of Love and War (2011) recounts some of the most significant events in the personal life of acclaimed war correspondent and author, Janine Di Giovanni, whose career spans across three decades. Her ability to highlight forgotten warfare zones and to depict ‘the human cost of war’ has earned her a reputation as one of the most established reporters of our generation. This memoir gives the reader a glimpse into the time she has spent in various warravaged cities, but functions mainly as a reflection on events in her own life during this time. Central to its narrative is the love story between Janine and fellow reporter, Bruno, whose first encounter in the city of Sarajevo leads to the development of a relationship that manages to survive daily life on the front line as well as countless breakups, three miscarriages, and the stress and separation that their jobs repeatedly demand from them.
Years later, the birth of their son, Luca, sees the beginning of a new chapter as they relocate to settle in France. Despite leaving the strains of war behind, their attempt to create a successful home life in Paris is prevented by the culture shock of experiencing mundane life in the safety of a peaceful country. The absence of warfare allows them to finally gain perspective on the personal trauma that they have both suffered throughout the many wars they have witnessed. Janine struggles with the challenge of first-time motherhood while baring witness to the emergence of Bruno’s personal demons in the form of post-traumatic stress and alcoholism. The overwhelming combination of these issues leads to the eventual dissolution of their fragile marriage.
The narrative mainly deals with Janine’s personal understanding of love and loss as she reflects on the many changes in her life and reminisces about past times with Bruno. It details her struggle to have a successful pregnancy and the dilemmas of first-time motherhood, as well as the challenge of creating a new home in a foreign land. The importance of female support during these difficult times is emphasised by her admission that Luca’s birth strengthens the bond between her and her own mother, and tells how it is only with the help of her mother-in-law that she finally settles into French life and culture.
Overall, it is a beautifully written book that deals with its sensitive subject matter in an open and honest manner. Her ability to share the darkest toments of her personal struggles with the reader left me still thinking about her words long after I had read the last page. My only criticism is the slightly problematic time sequence, as the flow of the narrative is often interrupted by flashbacks and short accounts of her various friendships with soldiers and native people, which can be difficult to follow at times. However, this is a minor fault in an otherwise gripping and thought-provoking account of a complex woman’s determination to find happiness in life despite all that she has seen on the front line.