Pícaro: Psychopaths, Warlords, and a Rogue Journalist
on the Dark Side of History by Jeff B. Harmon
Journalist and film director Jeff Harmon details his early childhood in California as the son of distant, divorced, and eccentric parents and his harrowing adventures in the Central African Empire, Paraguay, El Salvador, and Afghanistan throughout the late 70s and into the 80s. As a journalist, his specialty was infiltrating the most guarded secrets of the country he was reporting on with incredible luck and pure boldness. His memoir recounts his investigation of neo-Nazis hiding out in Paraguay during his quest to find Dr. Josef Mendel and then his dangerous reporting on the right-wing death squads in El Salvador during its civil war. In Afghanistan, his seeming death wish continues as he is granted close, personal contact with both the Mujahideen Afghan rebel fighters and the Soviet invaders during the late 1980s, a diplomatic and dangerous feat that few were able to live to tell about. Each chapter highlights a specific time and place during his years as a war correspondent and film director whose eye for destruction and human depravity is never exhausted.
Although written over thirty years ago to Pícaro’s modern readers, his stories of Afghanistan in particular provide much needed clarity behind the American military’s current battles in the same region. He is able to recount the pure hell of a war torn nation from all perspectives while also describing the personal lives of the people he meets, perhaps all the more provocative as a homosexual man in cultures with strict rules regarding sexuality. While fascinating and incredibly relevant, at times his narration jumps quickly within chapters and his tone makes his memoir feel more like fiction than fact. Regardless, through his memories Harmon is able to provide readers with fascinating descriptions of cultures that still remain shrouded in mystery and how deadly violence brings out humanity’s eternal wrestle with itself and fellow man.
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