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

By – May 16, 2017

This grip­ping mem­oir opens dur­ing Schuster’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 Schus­ter 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.

Gab­by was an intern at the Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and is cur­rent­ly a senior at Binghamton.

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?