It wasn’t the best time of my life, and then again it was, in the way that you realize only later, after it is over. I was sitting in a smelly hotel room somewhere in Vietnam, it was the early ’90s and I had met these lovely Israelis whom I joined on the path up north. I was lonely, I wasn’t happy. And I read Michael Herr’s “Dispatches.” What struck me most, apart from the history that reached across the decades and the intimacy of his voice, was the sense of doubt and even dread that Herr was able to express while driving his story forward with a prose that was both vivid and reflective. I wasn’t a journalist then, and I am not sure I knew I would be one. And later, when I became one, I wasn’t a war reporter like Herr, even if for a while I entertained the thought that I could be, that I should be, that this was the only valuable journalism. It was pure narcissism, of course.
Never could I have done it. I became a theater critic instead. Quite the opposite in a lot of ways, in most ways actually. But what I took from that book and what remained with me was the sense that you could build whole worlds from paper and words, it was paper then, it is still words, and those worlds can be both exterior and interior at the same time, they can live in both spheres, for the others to see and for you to suffer, or, less dramatic, to feel. It is this sensibility that Herr gave me as a gift. It was hard earned for him.