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Book review: “How to Avoid Being Killed in a War Zone,” by Rosie Garthwaite

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When in a war zone, wear a bra to bed, in case you need to run for it. Bring condoms, which can function as sterile gloves, water carriers or party balloons. Do daily exercise, pack granola bars and carry a portable saw, for amputations.

In “How to Avoid Being Killed in a War Zone,” Rosie Garthwaite, a journalist working for Al Jazeera, keeps things light as she offers advice to those bound for restive areas. In a chatty first-person voice, she weaves her own experience with anecdotes from fellow journalists, aid workers, former hostages and other war-zone veterans.

The contributors do not always agree — some advise dressing like the locals to blend in; others warn that this could offend — but in wartime it’s probably a good idea not to stick too rigidly to any one approach. The information on medical care, wilderness survival and food would be useful anywhere, while the cultural advice skews heavily toward Islamic countries, where most of the contributors have worked.

Non-combatants who enter war zones voluntarily, and repeatedly, compose a rarified society where “real” life can fade into a distant haze. With danger always present, perspectives can become skewed, causing people to jump recklessly into the middle of firefights — or into each other’s beds. For the latter, there are the aforementioned condoms. For the former, as one contributor writes, when a 50-50 chance of being killed starts to look like playable odds, “That’s when it’s time to leave.”

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