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Hello to All ThatReview - Hello to All That
A Memoir of War, Zoloft, and Peace
by John Falk
Picador, 2004
Review by Kevin Purday
Jun 13th 2006 (Volume 10, Issue 24)

This book is an autobiography which interleaves the author's life as a child, teenager and university student with the year he spent as a correspondent in war-torn Sarajevo. The book starts with the author landing in a Luftwaffe C-130 food-aid plane at Sarajevo airport in August 1993 and ends, after his graduation from law school, with his marriage in July 2001. Chapters literally alternate between the year in Sarajevo and the incidents in his life before and, near the end of the book, after his period as a war correspondent. The theme that links these two stories is the author's unipolar depression.

As the stories develop we learn that clinical depression runs in his mother's family and affected not only the author but also one of his sisters. There is a moving account of how his mother's brother, Robert, was virtually incapacitated by it and died young. What this reviewer found most heartening was the wonderful account of the author's family -- his mother and father come over as the most marvelous and caring of people who have to endure agonies over two of their children but have enormous reserves of inner strength and goodness to persevere and see both of the children through the trauma of depression. This is also the story of caring psychiatric professionals who take tremendous trouble to help their depressed patients. Incidentally it is also an unusual compliment to the pharmaceutical industry for their production firstly of Prozac which helped the author's sister but did nothing for him and then later Zoloft which did do the trick for him and helped him to re-enter the real world and enabled him to both find himself and to do something for other people in the process.

The self-discovery and the doing of good both came during his period working as a freelance journalist in Sarajevo. The book gives a very good feel of this appalling war which devastated one of the most beautiful and cosmopolitan cities in Europe, brought shame on the Chetnik Serbs who tried to ethnically cleanse the city by raping the Muslim women and by killing the men and children, brought home the uselessness of the United Nations which pretended to be refereeing a just war, and generally brought to the attention of those who cared enough to pay attention how hypocritical most Western governments were as they mouthed platitudes while doing nothing to help the plight of half a million innocent civilians as they were picked off by the encircling Serb army.

The author tells of how he stayed with a couple of Bosnian families and eventually got to know probably the most famous of the Bosnian anti-snipers -- those patient people whose job it was to kill the Chetnik snipers who were callously shooting men, women and children as they tried to lead their lives in conditions of dreadful poverty, deprivation and danger. It was his meetings with this man that led to the author's article for Details magazine which was entitled 'Shot Through the Heart'. This article was turned into an HBO movie and went on to win a Peabody Award for Best Cable Movie of the Year.

This reviewer was struck by how throughout the book the author is extremely honest about his own shortcomings and how clinical depression led him to be the sort of person he just did not want to be! Anyone suffering from depression should read this book. It is good to know that other people have gone through the same depths of despair and yet, with help from family, friends and caring professionals, have come out the other side as strong people who can not only efficiently run their own lives but can also contribute positively to making a better world for other people.

The book is beautifully and movingly written as one would expect from a journalist. It is also at times very sad and yet often very funny. In the end it is an extremely uplifting book. For anyone interested in learning about the effect that unipolar depression can have on a very intelligent young person and what a brave journey it is, with help, to reconnect with reality or for anyone wanting to learn a little more about the inhumanity of man to man in the siege of Sarajevo, this is a book to bring tears to your eyes and warmth to your heart.

 

2006 Kevin M. Purday

 

Kevin Purday works at The Modern English School, Cairo, Egypt, and has a Master's degree in the Philosophy & Ethics of Mental Health from the Philosophy Dept. at the University of Warwick.


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