Profile feature: The New Yorker

The following profile feature, “Atonement”, written by Dexter Filkins, was posted to the New Yorker on October 22, 2012.

One thing that distinguishes this story is its two-strand structure with a focus on the stories of two subjects — an Iraq War veteran named Lobello, and an Iraqi woman, Nora, whom he meets online as he tries to come to terms with his deeds as a soldier during the war. The writer begins the story with Lobello’s search for those he harmed, and his attempt to reach out to Nora.

“It’s very hard for me to say this, Nora, but we met on April 8, 2003,’’ Lobello said. “I was with Fox Company, Second Battalion, Twenty-third Marine Regiment, and our fate crossed that night. I’m not sure if you remember, because it was so long ago now. Almost a decade.”

In the next section, Filkins turns to the experience of Nora and her family, mentioning her injured shoulder.

In a corner, seated on the edge of a bed, was a young woman with blond hair, which was rare in Iraq. Her left shoulder was heavily bandaged; blood and pus had seeped through and dried in a dark-red stain. She was semi-coherent, talking one second, murmuring in a deep voice the next. In a lucid moment, she said that her name was Nora Kachadoorian.

The writer then switches back to Lobello’s memory of shooting at three cars during the invasion of Baghdad. He too highlights a woman with a bleeding shoulder.

A second woman emerged from the Mercedes, bleeding from the scalp, holding up a crimson baby. Lobello stopped firing, but the Iraqis kept on. A group of marines ran into the intersection. Lobello remembered seeing a third woman in the blue Mercedes, struggling to get out of the back seat. She was bleeding from the shoulder.

By using this technique, the writer makes the story more interesting and attractive. Also it helps to show both sides of the anti-war theme of the story: the guilty Marines and the innocent victims.

NOTE FROM DAVID: Good summary. I think you point out something important when you note the way Filkin’s alternates between the stories of Lobello and Nora. I think you are right that there is a kind of “anti-war theme,” a sense that war is devastating to all involved, including those ho perpetrate it. However, I believe the main theme of Filkin’s story is given to us in the title itself: “Atonement.” It is a story about one man’s search for forgiveness. This makes the writer’s choice of structure, the one you note, very important. At the start of the story, Nora and Lobello are separate. Separate strands of the story. By the end, those strands have come together. Right? So the structure itself mirrors, you might say, the act of forgiveness.