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Collection of Pearl’s Articles a Real Gem

In only a few paragraphs, Pearl could give a feeling of what life was like behind the headlines.

by Aaron Leibel

September 5, 2002 | 8:00 pm

"At Home in the World: Collected Writings from The Wall Street Journal" by Daniel Pearl, edited by Helen Cooper (Simon & Schuster, $24).

From this collection's first article -- "In Indian Quake, Death Haunts the Living" (2001) -- Daniel Pearl's journalistic qualities shine through.

Every reporter worth his salt -- or his word processor -- keeps his eyes open. But not all of us are able to distinguish life's small ironies, those gleaming nuggets that make an article really worth reading.

Pearl, the Jewish American Wall Street Journal reporter who was brutally murdered in Pakistan in February, notes that the billboards advertising the area's hotels ("Entertain your corporate clients in style") survived an earthquake, while those same hotels didn't.

Nor would a lesser breed of reporter be able to discern that there are people willing to exploit the victims -- and then have the courage to unmask them.

"Maybe everyone really just wants to help," Pearl notes. "But why does [a local religious leader] ... already have the photo album ready a day after his visit to the razed village of Jodia? Photos of the guru distributing water barrels and talking with survivors are quickly posted on the Web site, along with an appeal for funds."

Pearl also had a keen eye for the absurd. In that vein is a 1996 article on an Iranian film on hostages ("This Film Has a Bus, Explosions and Veils: Call It Iranian Speed") that dealt not with the Americans held for 444 days in 1979-1980, but with 44 Iranian passengers held for three hours after their bus stumbled onto American helicopters getting ready for the failed 1980 rescue attempt.

Or his 1997 report on the battle between Ethiopia and Yemen, each claiming the Queen of Sheba as its own ("If Only King Solomon Were Here to Settle This Nasty Dispute").

In only a few paragraphs, Pearl could give his readers a true feeling of what life was like behind the headlines. His futile 1999 search for reconciliation between Serbs and Kosovars ("Search for Mercy Ends in Tears on Quiet Kosovo Street") is a case in point. So are his 1996 descriptions of young Iranians who, despite their government, want to visit America ("Tehran Wanderlust: Hot Item in Iran Now Is Visa to Visit U.S., Once the Great Satan") and the 1992 article on the mixed feelings of black policemen ("To Be a Black Cop Can Mean Walking a Very Fine Line").

And Pearl could plain write. The lead for his 1993 report ("Beauty Shows Turn Beastly as Sponsors Bare Lacquered Nails") -- "At the age of 9, Ashley Kinard has discovered just how ugly the business of beauty can be" -- is a classic. So is "This is a small town in search of a really big floor," from his 1997 piece on the making of a huge carpet in Iran ("Looming Large").

Whether Pearl "cherished truth more than anything," as his widow, Mariane, wrote in the book's introduction, I can't say.

Whether "he had not one shred of malice in his bones," as his father, Judea Pearl, said of him in his eulogy, I don't know.

But after reading these excerpts from his career, it is apparent that Pearl was a good writer and an excellent reporter.

For a journalist, it doesn't get any better than that.

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