Dirty Wars and Polished Silver: The Life and Times of a War Correspondent Turned Ambassatrix

Melville House Publishing  2017


This gripping memoir opens during Shuster’s early life as a teenager living on a kibbutz in Israel, seeking the adventure and spontaneity lacking from her hometown in Midwestern suburbia. The book then pans to Schuster as a young journalist at a pivotal moment in her career, petitioning to report from war-torn South America. Tragedy strikes, and she realizes that the excitement of war also comes with heartbreaking consequences and sudden loss.

In the rest of the memoir, Schuster takes the reader along with her as she falls in love and attends “Ambassatrix” school, created specifically for the wives of U.S. ambassadors. At first, Schuster longs to be different from the predictable suburbanites she grew up with. However, by the end of the war she finds herself weary of war and craving normalcy. She learns that sometimes the most prosaic parts of life are the ones we need most.

Schuster is able to turn just about anything into a thrilling story, including the seemingly mundane, such as adjusting to domestic life, raising a child, and tending to a household. Raw and witty, Dirty Wars stands out due to its relatability, even as Shuster describes events far removed from the reader’s own life. You will feel the author’s pain during her tragedies, laugh with her through happy times and funny anecdotes, and gasp in fear during moments of intense strife.

Read Lynda's Posts for the Visiting Scribe

How I Learned (Or Didn't) To Be A Diplomatic Wife

Memory's Imperfections

How Journalism Has Changed

Discussion Questions

Courtesy of Lynda Schuster

1. In the book’s prologue, Lynda writes that war would come to dominate her existence both as a reporter and as a wife. To what extent do you think that was driven by choice and to what extent was it the result of chance?

2. How would you react if your teenager announced that she/he were moving to another part of the world, especially one as dangerous as the Middle East?

3. Where did Lynda’s motivation to seek a life of adventure, “through the eye of a needle,” if necessary, come from? Was it simply a rebellion against what she perceived as her mother’s staid housewife’s existence? Do you see the fraught relationship between her parents as part of her motivation?

4. Discuss Lynda’s use of humor in coping with both dangerous and tragic events.

5. What did you think of the May/December relationship between Dial and Lynda?

6. Does Dial’s murder change Lynda? If so, in what ways?

7. Was there anything about Lynda’s description of working as a foreign correspondent that was surprising or a revelation? Do you think that being a woman in that profession is an advantage? Disadvantage? How do you think the profession has changed with the advent of the Internet and social media?

8. Discuss Lynda’s decision to give up daily journalism to marry Dennis. Was this surprising?

9. How did you feel about Lynda’s difficulties in adjusting to life as a diplomatic spouse? What did you think of the two-week course that she referred to as “Ambassatrix School”? Was your understanding of diplomatic life changed by her stories?

10. Discuss Lynda’s relationship with Simcha, her “kibbutz mother,” versus that with her actual mother. How would you feel if your child maintained such a relationship?

11. Was Lynda’s sudden desire for a child unexpected? Did it change her? Her relationship with her mother? The book ends with Lynda worrying about her daughter in Israel; does this mean that her life has come full circle?

12. How does Lynda’s memoir differ from others you have read? Which stories will stay with you? Which do you wish she had expanded further?

Reading Group Guide

JBC Book Clubs has created a book club kit for Dirty Wars and Polished Silver that includes some background history on the countries and situations that appear in the book, discussion questions, recommended reads, and recipes. 

Download your copy here.

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