Time Zones: A Journalist in the World
Peter Martin is a senior projects editor at the University of Ottawa
These days we see Schlesinger doing standups from Ottawa for the CBC.
His face is well worn and his voice a little roughened; a perceptible
accent adds piquancy to his words—words that go directly to the heart
of whatever murky matter he is called upon to explain.
Before reporting from Parliament Hill, he had made a career of covering
more exciting places—Iran, Vietnam, El Salvador, China, Poland, and
his native Czechoslovakia among them. His quickness of mind and clarity
of expression are even more evident in the pages of Time Zones, his
sort-of memoir, than on our TV screens.
Schlesinger was born a Jew in Czechoslovakia. His family sent him to
England before the advent of the “Final Solution.” He was
repatriated to his homeland, still a student, at war’s end. After the
Communist takeover he was obliged to flee, once more, this time on his
own initiative; he crossed river ice to Austria one winter morning in
Soon he was in Vancouver, going to university and working on the
Ubyssey. From there he moved to the Province, to the (Paris) Herald
Tribune, the Toronto Star, and at last to the CBC, where he has stayed.
Apart from occasional vivid anecdotes, the autobiographical information
in Time Zones is scant. Most of the book is given over to the places and
stories Schlesinger covered in two decades as a foreign correspondent.
He had been head of TV News for the corporation but says, “in 1970, I
jumped off the ladder I had been climbing. . . . I went off to the Far
East Bureau of the CBC.”
Many foreign correspondents write “I was there” books. Few
transcend genre boundaries as this one does. Schlesinger knows the
historical context of the events he describes; he makes deep-rooted,
alien conflicts understandable in words so clear they seem inevitable.
And when personal experiences enter into the narrative—always to
illuminate a point—he tells his stories with the self-deprecating
detachment that is the sanity-saving mark of the sophisticated Central
European exile in a mad world.
His last chapter is ostensibly about Vaclav Havel’s “Velvet
Revolution,” but it’s really an essay in praise of decency: a
too-rare quality, but one that permeates Schlesinger’s personal times