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Adam Pearl wandered through his mother's Manhattan book-launch party last week, looking spiffy in a sweater vest and button-down shirt. It was logical that the 5-year-old was there, because his mom, Mariane Pearl, views her work as a dialogue of sorts with her little boy.
"First, I had to tell our story to our son," Pearl says, speaking of the horrific 2002 murder of her husband, Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, at the hands of Islamic militants in Pakistan. She did that with her memoir, A Mighty Heart: The Brave Life and Death of My Husband, Danny Pearl, which famously became a movie starring Angelina Jolie.
"And once I had done that," Pearl continues, "the question was, how do I now focus on the ability of my son to live? I was in a situation where I could not really say to him, 'This is a hopeful world.' So the question was, how do we fight this fear, this helplessness that we all share?"
Her answer, at least for the past year, has been to focus on hope - not in the abstract, but through the stories of women across the globe, sometimes in its most troubled corners, who are trying to change their countries, ridding them of corruption, disease or prejudice. In Search of Hope: The Global Diaries of Mariane Pearl, which came out this week, is a collection of columns Pearl wrote for Glamour magazine based on a year of her travels to visit these women.
There's the doctor in Uganda, 27-year-old Julian Atim, who lost both parents to AIDS and is now fighting to save others from the same fate. (According to the group Physicians for Human Rights, she is one of two doctors who treat 100,000 patients in her war-torn northern region.) Atim says her mother died because she thought it more important to pay her children's school fees than buy expensive anti-retroviral drugs.
There's the former sex slave from Cambodia, Somaly Mam, who doesn't know her precise age because she was sold into prostitution as a child. Mam now rescues young girls from sexual slavery, training them for new jobs. When Pearl visited in 2006, Mam was desperately trying to find her kidnapped 14-year-old daughter. The girl was found, but she had been raped by her abductors.
There's also Lydia Cacho, a Mexican reporter whose life has been repeatedly threatened for her exposes, particularly on pedophilia. And Fatima Elayoubi, a Moroccan immigrant in Pearl's native Paris who wrote a memoir detailing the frustration that immigrants in France experience, tensions that have boiled over into full-blown riots.
In her book, which profiles 12 women, Pearl also liberally intersperses snippets from her own life. Mariane Van Neyenhoff grew up in Paris, the product of a Dutch father and a Cuban mother. At 17, she discovered the suicide note of her father, who died when she was little; Until then, she'd thought he'd died of natural causes.
"With the shock came an overpowering urge to force a dramatic change in my life," Pearl writes. She moved to New York with the brief dream of becoming a dancer.
It was while dancing with her mother at a birthday party back in Paris, years later, that Mariane met Danny Pearl, a talented folk musician as well as writer. The two married and were living temporarily in Karachi, Pakistan - Mariane was five months pregnant - when Danny Pearl was kidnapped, held hostage and ultimately beheaded by militants as he pursued the trail of shoe bomber Richard Reid. The killing was videotaped and posted on the Internet.
MARIANE PEARL knows she wouldn't have been received so openly by the women profiled in her new book, which is being published by Glamour, had she not gone through tragedy herself. "They knew I had already gone through hell," she says. "So there was an element of trust. They opened their hearts to me."
Sometimes, Adam, not yet in school, would accompany his mother on her reporting trips - "when it wasn't too crazy or scary," Pearl says, as in her visit to her mother's native Cuba. Other times, he would stay at home in Paris, where they are now living again after some time in New York.
What visit moved her most? Possibly her meeting with Mayerly Sanchez, a 23-year-old leader of the Children's Peace Movement in Colombia. "There was absolutely no joy in Colombia," notes Pearl. "The violence has really broken peoples' souls."
Pearl's column in Glamour continues, now bimonthly. (The magazine is donating 100 percent of proceeds of her books purchased on http://www.glamour.com to the charities of the women profiled.) She recently returned from Israel, the homeland of her father in-law, where she spent time on the border with Lebanon. She hopes soon to go to Senegal, Brazil, and especially Iran, a country that Daniel Pearl visited frequently on reporting trips. "I have lots of people waiting for me there," she says.
Also a documentary filmmaker by trade, Pearl is mulling the possibilities of doing a film on her travels. And with her friend, Jolie, she's dreaming up a future international women's conference.
Her travels "allow me to keep embracing the world," as Pearl puts it. But have they led to healing? That isn't the term she would choose to use. "I never try to heal, anyway," Pearl says. "I don't know that you can." She prefers to view her focus on hope and change as a form of revenge.
"You choose fear," she says, to those who killed her husband and seek to harm others through violence and hatred. "I choose hope."
"Let's see who wins." (AP)