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Foreign correspondents keep an eye on the world

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If a hero has a thousand faces, there’s usually one who becomes a favorite. It could be Ulysses or Huck Finn, Joan of Arc or Nancy Drew. Mine is William Boot.

Boot is found in Evelyn Waugh’s minor comic novel “Scoop.” He is a gardening writer who wants nothing more than to pen homey columns from the ramshackle manse that he and his eccentric family inhabit far from London. He specializes in overwrought prose such as: “Feather-footed through the plashy fen passes the questing vole.” Through a case of mistaken identity, Boot’s editors dispatch him to a country called Ishmaelia, where – after many adventures and hilarious encounters – he blunders into a scoop.

The novel is too dated (1938) and nichey to be of enduring popularity, but generations of foreign correspondents have chortled at the truths they see in its outrageous characters and plot twists.

Foreign correspondents witness amazing and awful things – revolutions, massacres, natural disasters. Some long to see the world. Like William, some stumble into the job. Almost all end up with a believe-it-or-not story to tell at dinner parties. Michael Kelly, who died in Iraq in 2003, had a group of Iraqi soldiers surrender to him 12 years earlier in Kuwait. Vincent Schodolski, who was with United Press International in the early 1980s, once interviewed a party propagandist in Lebanon who argued strenuously that his group was not a “Muppet” of the Israelis.

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