Dickey, Christopher 1951–
Dickey, Christopher 1951–
(Chris Dickey, H.D.P.)
PERSONAL: Born August 31, 1951, in Nashville, TN; son of James (a writer and poet) and Maxine Dickey; married Susan Tuckerman, November 29, 1969 (divorced, December, 1979); married Carol Salvatore, March 22, 1980; children: James B.T. Education: University of Virginia, B.A., 1972; Boston University, M.S., 1974.
CAREER: Writer, novelist, memoirist, radio and television commentator, and journalist. Washington Post, Washington, DC, editor, reporter, foreign correspondent, managing editor of Washington Post magazine, and assistant editor and columnist of Washington Post Book World, 1974–86; Newsweek, New York, NY, began as Cairo Bureau Chief, became Paris Bureau Chief, beginning 1986, Middle East Regional Editor, 1993–. Frequent commentator on television and radio networks, including CNN, MSBNC, ABC, Fox News, British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), and National Public Radio (NPR).
MEMBER: Council on Foreign Relations, Overseas Press Club of America, Anglo-American Press Association of Paris.
AWARDS, HONORS: Inter-American Press Association Award for Reporting on Latin America, 1980; Overseas Press Club Award for Magazine Article, 1983; Edward Weintal Award for Distinguished Diplomatic Reporting, Georgetown University, 1998; Award for General Excellence, American Society of Magazine Editors, 2002, and Award for Best Magazine Reporting, Overseas Press Club (as part of team), both awarded to Newsweek; Edward R. Murrow fellow.
With the Contras: A Reporter in the Wilds of Nicaragua, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1986, updated with a preface, Touchstone (New York, NY), 1987.
Expats: Travels in Arabia, from Tripoli to Teheran, Atlantic Monthly Press (New York, NY), 1990.
Innocent Blood (novel), Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1997.
Summer of Deliverance: A Memoir of Father and Son, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1998.
(Author of foreword) Barbara Victor, Army of Roses: Inside the World of Palestinian Women Suicide Bombers, Rodale (Emmaus, PA), 2003.
The Sleeper (novel), Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2004.
Contributor to Central America: Anatomy of a Conflict, Tergamon, 1983. Contributor to periodicals, including Foreign Affairs, New Republic, Vanity Fair, New Yorker, Wired, Rolling Stone, New York Times Book Review, and the New York Review of Books. Columnist, under the pseudonym H.D.P., for Rolling Stone, 1983; author of column, "Shadowland," Newsweek Online, 2003–.
SIDELIGHTS: In his nonfiction writings, Christopher Dickey combines the keen insight of a journalist with a novelist's sense of drama and personality. This approach has produced two well-received and distinctive books. Written in 1986, with the United States deeply involved in the civil war between Nicaragua's Sandinista government and the Contra rebels, Dickey's With the Contras: A Reporter in the Wilds of Nicaragua sheds a harsh, revealing light on that conflict. His 1990 book, Expats: Travels in Arabia, from Tripoli to Teheran presents portraits of Westerners living and working in Libya, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and elsewhere in the Middle East.
"It is one of Dickey's strengths that he is just, honest, and respectful about almost all the characters who appear in his testimony of what it was like to be in the middle of a nightmare," wrote Robert Cox in the Washington Post Book World of With the Contras. Dickey begins his tale by charting the history of the Contras, the counter-revolutionary army that attempted to overthrow the leftist Sandinista government after the Sandinistas ousted Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza Debayle in 1979. The Contra army had its origins in the remnants of the disposed Somoza's brutal National Guard. As the conflict between the guerrilla and government forces escalated and the Sandinista regime grew more repressive, the Contras were joined by other members of Nicaraguan society, ranging from peasants to politicians, who had grown disillusioned with Sandinista rule. Dickey notes that the United States became involved with the Contras—covertly at first—by supplying arms and military training, mainly through agents of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). He further describes the men and women who took positions of leadership within the guerrilla force, bearing names such as "Suicida" and "El Muerto" (meaning "The Dead One"). He also notes the confusion, fighting, and killing within the factions.
Dickey's book, however, is not one-sided in its view of the war. Rod Nordland, writing in Newsweek, noted that Dickey "is no special pleader for the Sandinistas. He documents some of the Sandinista injustices that turned many onetime supporters into what President Reagan chooses to call 'freedom fighters.' But his book quickly disabuses us of any sympathy with the anti-Sandinista cause. Hoodlums, assassins, even known terrorists parade through its pages." New York Times Book Review contributor Abraham Brumberg declared that Dickey portrays the Contra leaders as "men addicted to violence" whose "brutality is indiscriminate."
A few critics remarked on Dickey's style as being more suited to fiction. Cox suggested that "perhaps because the material is so incredible, he has woven a book of nonfiction as if it were a novel." Brumberg objected to the presentation as being "in the vein of a grade-B thriller, replete with … abrupt and bewildering cuts from one incident to another; lurid passages; far-fetched similes and metaphors." Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, writing for the New York Times, also said that while With the Contras "seems a little like fiction," it is nevertheless "a vivid if horrifying report on recent events in Central America."
In his second book, Dickey takes his reporter's eye and his novelist's flair thousands of miles away from Central America, to the deserts of Arabia. Expats is Dickey's exploration of how Westerners interact with the Arab world. He presents a wide cast of characters, including aging explorers, famine-relief workers, secretaries, and oil-tanker crews. Most of Dickey's "expats" have come to the Middle East for the money: they could never earn so much and live so well doing the same jobs at home. "The expats crowd into compounds, count their money, drink themselves silly and leaf through out-of-date and censored magazines from America," explained Robert Irwin in the Washington Post Book World. "There are exceptions, but mostly their lives seem shallow and depressing, though well paid."
The tales and anecdotes of the expats unite the book, with the Arab world serving as "more backdrop than subject," stated Los Angeles Times Book Reviewcontributor David Reiff. The critic further commented, "Interestingly, Expats is almost entirely free of theorizing about the Middle East." Robert Fox, writing in the Times Literary Supplement, also commended the "interviews and encounters" which "sometimes provide [Dickey] with impressions at second hand, but they are vivid impressions and often illuminating." Sandra Mackey, writing in the New York Times Book Review, observed: "Moving across the Middle East, Mr. Dickey constructs a richly hued collage of foreigners enmeshed in the Arab world."
Dickey turns his discerning journalist's eye to his own life in Summer of Deliverance: A Memoir of Father and Son, a memoir that Time reviewer Lance Morrow called a "loving, ruthless portrait of his father, the poet-novelist James Dickey." The author "writes with a fine complexity, acquired the hard way, by experience with a self-absorbed father, a mother who was herself alcoholic, and a family drama that descended, from time to time, to the gothically dysfunctional," observed Morrow. Dickey describes his father's early life, even as he works to separate the fact from the often elaborate fictions that James Dickey spun about his background. The author relates how his father struggled to establish himself as a writer and a poet, and how his fame and reputation gradually grew until the publication of his breakout novel, Deliverance, in 1970. The novel and the subsequent motion picture had the effect of giving the elder Dickey the "license to indulge his worst vices," noted Joanne Wilkinson in Booklist. James Dickey's life spiraled into a perpetual spree of alcohol, women, and self-indulgence while he toured the country, speaking at universities and seducing students. His wife, also afflicted with alcoholism, was overwhelmed by her disease and eventually died. A scandalously short time later, James married a woman decades his junior, but one who was equally alcoholic and, eventually, abusive. James Dickey's talent eroded in this haze of excess, and though he published more works, none rose to the quality or acclaim of his last notable piece, Deliverance. Christopher relates how the relationship between himself and his father frayed and snapped during these years. However, he also knows the power of redemption, describing the powerful reconciliation he and his father had before the elder's death in 1997.
"Haunting and disturbing, this book is hard to read, hard to put down. It is so vivid that the reader risks participating in the suffering that is the stuff of myths," commented John Kennedy in the Antioch Review. "This unflinching and deeply affecting memoir is one of those places where real poetry occurs," mused a Publishers Weekly contributor. Peter Davison, writing in the Atlantic Monthly, concluded: "Occasionally Christopher Dickey's writing stumbles; sometimes fewer adjectives would have conveyed more meaning; sometimes a frog constricts the throat; but the candor and decency of this narrative seldom fail the reader."
Christopher Dickey is also a noted novelist whose books offer stories of international intrigue, spies on the loose, and political machinations. Innocent Blood "offers a fictional expression of the evolution of a midwestern American into a Muslim terrorist," noted Booklist reviewer Gilbert Taylor. Kurt Kurtovic is a former Army ranger who served in the Gulf War. There, amidst the anti-Muslim sentiment of his fellow soldiers, he met Rashid, a Kuwaiti resistance fighter and remorseless killer. Later, when Kurtovic goes to visit his Bosnian village, he finds the place destroyed. He also unexpectedly encounters Rashid again, who convinces Kurtovic to join him in executing a terrorist act in New York. Kurtovic struggles with his Muslim beliefs and his increasing disillusionment with America as he considers whether or not to turn against his home country. A Newsweek reviewer called the book an "unforgiving look at the costs of war and misguided patriotism." The novel's "pace is fast, and Dickey succeeds admirably in showing both the psychology and the impeccable, chilling logic that can underlie the most violent behavior," observed a Publishers Weekly reviewer.
Kurtovic reappears in The Sleeper, reconsidering the attitudes and actions that drove him in the previous book. Separated from the violence and ideology of the Islamic Jihad, Kurtovic has reforged his loyalty to America, now embracing the constructive and more peaceful tenets of building rather than destroying to effect change. Though he now lives with his wife and daughter in a small town in Kansas, Kurtovic feels the devastating force of the September 11th terrorist attacks in New York. Worse, Kurtovic still has possession of a mysterious vial of virulent biological agents, and he knows that the terrorists will soon come looking for it, ready and willing to destroy Kurtovic's life and family to get it. When approached by Griffin, a government agent with an offer to infiltrate al Qaeda in order to strike at them from the inside, Kurtovic is eager to get the chance to strike a blow against them. In the course of his mission, however, Kurtovic is captured by U.S. forces and incarcerated at Guantanamo Bay. There, he discovers that Griffin may not be who he appears to be, and that the mysterious agent has plans that will focus deadly danger on Kurtovic and his family. Dickey "writes with thoroughgoing accuracy" about Kurtovic's troubles at Guantanamo, noted Library Journal reviewer Barbara Conaty. "The Sleeper is a tense and persuasive thriller, timely as today's headlines, of a world in the throes of chaos and panic, and one man's efforts to restore some semblance of order," remarked BookPage reviewer Bruce Tierney. "Dickey possesses extraordinary literary ability. He gets deep into the crevices of Kurtovic's mind in a way that few of his contemporaries can equal," observed reviewer Joe Hartlaub in a piece for Bookreporter.com.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Dickey, Christopher, Summer of Deliverance: A Memoir of Father and Son, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1998.
Antioch Review, spring, 1999, John Kennedy, review of Summer of Deliverance: A Memoir of Father and Son, p. 246.
Atlantic Monthly, August 1, 1998, Peter Davison, review of Summer of Deliverance, p. 106.
Booklist, May 1, 1997, Gilbert Taylor, review of Innocent Blood, p. 1477; July, 1998, Joanne Wilkinson, review of Summer of Deliverance, p. 1850.
Entertainment Weekly, September 11, 1998, Rhonda Johnson, "The Week," review of Summer of Deliverance, p. 128.
Kirkus Reviews, July 1, 2004, review of The Sleeper, p. 592.
Library Journal, May 1, 1997, Grant A. Fredericksen, review of Innocent Blood, p. 138; July, 1998, Richard K. Burns, review of Summer of Deliverance, p. 89; September 1, 2004, Barbara Conaty, review of The Sleeper, p. 138.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, June 24, 1990, David Reiff, "Our Men in the Middle East," review of Expats: Travels in Arabia, From Tripoli to Teheran, p. 3.
Nation, February 15, 1986, review of With the Contras, p. 181.
Newsweek, February 17, 1986, review of With the Contras, p. 71; June 23, 1997, review of Innocent Blood, p. 73.
New Yorker, February 17, 1986, review of With the Contras, p. 103; September 3, 1990, review of Expats, p. 108.
New York Review of Books, April 10, 1986, Aryeh Neier, review of With the Contras, p. 3.
New York Times, January 20, 1986, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, review of With the Contras, p. 17.
New York Times Book Review, January 26, 1986, Abraham Brumberg, review of With the Contras, p. 3; May 24, 1987, Patricia T. O'Conner, review of With the Contras, p. 20; June 24, 1990, Sandra Mackey, review of Expats, p. 14.
Publishers Weekly, May 5, 1997, review of Innocent Blood, p. 199; July 20, 1998, review of Summer of Deliverance, p. 199; August 4, 2003, "Eye on the Middle East," review of Army of Roses: Inside the World of Palestinian Women Suicide Bombers, p. 65.
Time, August 24, 1998, Lance Morrow, review of Summer of Deliverance, p. 82.
Times Literary Supplement, September 7, 1990, John A.C. Greppin, review of Expats, p. 938; December 27, 1991, Malise Ruthven, review of Expats, p. 24.
Washington Post Book World, January 26, 1986, Robert Cox, "The War against the Sandinistas," review of With the Contras, p. 5; June 17, 1990, Robert Irwin, "Travelers in an Antique Land," review of Expats, p. 6; September 12, 2004, Neil Gordon, "Secret Agent Man," review of The Sleeper, p. 10.
BookPage, http://www.bookpage.com/ (December 5, 2006), Bruce Tierney, "Fighting Terror in Today's World," review of The Sleeper.
Bookreporter.com, http://www.bookreporter.com/ (December 5, 2006), Joe Hartlaub, review of The Sleeper.
Christopher Dickey Home Page, http://www.christopherdickey.com (December 5, 2006).
Christopher Dickey Web log, http://www.christopherdickey.blogspot.com/ (December 5, 2006).
Newsweek Online, http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/3032542/site/newsweek/ (March 26, 2005), biography of Christopher Dickey.