War-torn Bosnia is an unlikely place for a young man to "find"
himself, but that is exactly what happened to John Falk, a would-be
freelance war correspondent. After suffering from debilitating
depression for a decade, John emerged --- with the help of Zoloft
--- ready and determined to feel truly alive again. John's war
experiences are interwoven with his struggles of depression in this
most unusual, hope-filled book.
John was living a fairly normal, adolescent existence. He was a
good student and athlete, had a loving family, and plenty of
friends. One otherwise-ordinary morning John woke up a stranger to
his previous life. He was on the outside looking in. Emotionally he
was an empty pit. Thus began his fierce battle with depression.
Because John acted like his usual self, no one except his family
realized there was a serious problem, and he managed to keep them
fooled for too long. The only thing that prevented him from
committing suicide was the knowledge of how deeply it would hurt
John survived adolescence and even completed college acting, always
acting like he was fine. Then he isolated himself in his parents'
attic where he tried to sleep his days away. Eventually he bottomed
and sought help from his mother. She immediately took him to a
psychiatrist who found the appropriate drug for his
As John began to improve he realized how much he had missed out on,
locked away in emotional and physical isolation all those years. He
was extremely anxious to get back in the game called life. John had
spent countless lonely hours in the attic reading books about war
correspondents. Their stories fascinated him. An idea emerged ---
perhaps he could jumpstart his life by becoming a war
correspondent. Not deterred in the least that he had neither
training nor experience for the role he sought, John cobbled
together some extremely iffy press credentials and headed to
Through an odd combination of dumb luck, the kindness of strangers,
a huge dose of chutzpah and sheer tenacity, John really did become
a war correspondent. He filed many stories, always keeping his eyes
and ears open for the Big Story. And he found himself deeply
involved with people who were just trying to survive, to live as
normal an existence as they could under horrible circumstances.
Though they lacked electricity, food, fuel and running water, the
people of Sarajevo hunkered down and waited for the war to
Sarajevo was filled with snipers, who often kept the people
veritable prisoners inside their own homes. Sometimes, of course,
it was necessary to leave their dwellings, and to do so was quite
risky. John believed that if he could somehow manage to meet and
interview a sniper (no mean feat, since snipers operate in secret)
that that would be his Big Story and his ticket to whatever came
next. For a time John pursued his sniper story idea but came up
empty-handed. He focused on assisting three young people escape to
freedom in the United States.
A chance at the Big Story practically fell into John's lap. The man
in whose humble home he was living introduced him to Vlado, an
antisniper. Antisnipers had only one goal: to rid the city of
snipers. Vlado invited John along on his stakeouts and showed him
war from a different angle. John sensed that Vlado had a secret or
knew something that was vital for him to learn. Wary of John's
intentions at first, Vlado eventually took him into his confidence
and shared his heartbreaking story.
Finally John understood what he had come thousands of miles to
learn, what it means to be fully alive. And the Big Story really
did launch John's writing career.
Reviewed by Carole Turner on January 22, 2011