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FOCUS: Remembering Veteran Foreign Correspondent Christopher Dickey
Written by <a href="index.php?option=com_comprofiler&task=userProfile&user=55349"><span class="small">Matt Schudel, The Washington Post </span></a>   
Monday, 27 July 2020 11:26

Schudel writes: "Christopher Dickey, a foreign correspondent who wrote books about terrorism and international intrigue but who was perhaps best known for a revealing memoir about his tortured relationship with his father, the renowned poet and novelist James Dickey, died July 16 in Paris. He was 68."

Christopher Dickey. (image: Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast)
Christopher Dickey. (image: Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast)


Remembering Veteran Foreign Correspondent Christopher Dickey

By Matt Schudel, The Washington Post

27 July 20

 

hristopher Dickey, a foreign correspondent who wrote books about terrorism and international intrigue but who was perhaps best known for a revealing memoir about his tortured relationship with his father, the renowned poet and novelist James Dickey, died July 16 in Paris. He was 68.

His death was announced by the Daily Beast, an online publication for which he was world news editor. In a Twitter post, Daily Beast Editor in Chief Noah Shachtman attributed the cause to a heart ailment.

Mr. Dickey, who was editing stories and posting photographs of Paris street life hours before he died, spent most of the past 40 years working abroad, first with The Washington Post and later with Newsweek and the Daily Beast. He often appeared as a commentator on television.

He covered international conflicts from Nicaragua and El Salvador to Libya and Iraq and was described in a tribute by MSNBC anchor Brian Williams as “the real deal . . . a journalist in full, one of those great and curious storytellers who seem to know just about everything and everyone.”

In Nicaragua in the early 1980s, he narrowly escaped death while embedded with a group of U.S.-backed guerrillas called the contras.

“For six days and more than 90 miles through the broken mountains, pasturelands and tropical forests of Nueva Segovia,” Mr. Dickey wrote in The Post in 1983, “we moved with units of the Nicaraguan Democratic Force, the largest and richest of Nicaragua’s counterrevolutionary groups. The conditions set for the visit were that we would not reveal the exact way that we entered Nicaragua or the location of any major base camps.

“These guerrilla units, under the field command in this region of a former National Guard first sergeant they call ‘Suicide,’ appeared to be as well trained and well armed as virtually any regular infantry in Central America.”

In a 1986 book, “With the Contras: A Reporter in the Wilds of Nicaragua,” Mr. Dickey described grisly scenes in which contra fighters turned on one another. Even “Suicide” ended up being executed by members of his own movement.

Journalist David Rieff, writing in the Los Angeles Times, called “With the Contras” an “extraordinary book that remains far and away the best evocation of that sordid adventure that came to be known, in polite circles, as the Contra war.”

Later, after moving on to Cairo and Paris, Mr. Dickey continued to produce books, including “Expats” (1990) about Americans and other westerners living in the Muslim world. He wrote a pair of novels about an American with Muslim roots who joins a Middle Eastern terrorist group.

For many readers, however, Mr. Dickey’s most remarkable tale was the one he told about his family. His poignant memoir, “Summer of Deliverance,” was excerpted in the New Yorker and was published in 1998, one year after the death of his larger-than-life father.

James Dickey was an acclaimed poet who became famous with his 1970 novel “Deliverance,” about four suburban men who lose their way — and much more — on a river trip in the Georgia wilderness. It marked the peak of James Dickey’s fame, his son wrote, and the beginning of his undoing: “Jim Dickey was really on a roll, and all I could do was stand aside, amazed and amused, proud and a little appalled, as he loomed larger and larger in the book reviews, the magazine articles, on talk shows and publicity tours, combative and funny, drunk and outrageous and ruthless.”

When director John Boorman adapted “Deliverance” into a gritty, sometimes shocking film starring Burt Reynolds, Jon Voight and Ned Beatty, James Dickey became so overbearing that Boorman had him banished from the movie set. (Boorman later included him in a small role as a Southern sheriff.)

“Summer of Deliverance” became, in Mr. Dickey’s telling, a grim self-portrait of a dysfunctional family, in which both of his parents were alcoholics.

“We made friends quickly, but said goodbye almost as easily,” Mr. Dickey wrote about a childhood that was in constant upheaval. “We felt self-contained. We lived in Texas, France, Florida, and Georgia before I was five; Italy, Oregon, California, and Virginia before I was sixteen. But by then the corrosion had set in. My mother had begun to drink heavily, steadily. You could hear that tinkling of ice cubes in the kitchen at six in the morning.”

His mother died in 1976 of a ruptured esophagus at age 50. Within months, James Dickey was remarried to a former student who later was arrested on drug charges.

Mr. Dickey avoided his father for almost 20 years, but he noticed that he was increasingly drawn to father-and-son relationships in his writing. In 1994, he visited his father at his home in South Carolina, finding him near death from alcohol-induced hepatitis. He resolved to help his father get well.

“In Central America, the Middle East, Europe — in guerrilla wars and Gulf conflicts — I thought I was getting on with my life,” Mr. Dickey wrote.

“But blood doesn’t let go of you.”

Christopher Swift Dickey was born Aug. 31, 1951, in Nashville. He married at 18, then graduated in 1972 from the University of Virginia. He studied documentary filmmaking at Boston University, receiving a master’s degree in 1974.

He joined The Post soon afterward, helping write a promotional guidebook about D.C. He later worked as an editor in the books section and as a Metro reporter before becoming a foreign correspondent in 1980.

He worked at Newsweek from 1986 to 2013, then with the Daily Beast, where he was regarded as a tireless mentor of younger journalists. He had been based in Paris since 1990.

In 2015, Mr. Dickey published “Our Man in Charleston,” a best-selling historical account of a British spy behind Confederate lines during the Civil War. He was working on a follow-up book at the time of his death, the Daily Beast reported.

His marriage to Susan Tuckerman ended in divorce. Survivors include his wife of 40 years, the former Carol Salvatore, of Paris; a son from his first marriage, James B.T. Dickey of Arlington, Va.; a brother; a half sister; and three grandchildren.

James Dickey died in January 1997 at age 73. In the two years before his death, he quit drinking and had a reconciliation with his son. They spent hours together, recording long conversations in which Christopher Dickey saw the old sparkle of his father’s mind return, as memories and stories surged forth.

Mr. Dickey reviewed the transcripts of those conversations as he prepared to write “Summer of Deliverance.”

“I was trying to learn from my father now that he was dead,” he wrote, “all that I never allowed him to teach me while he lived.”

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Last Updated on Monday, 27 July 2020 11:37