When a reporter for The New York Times uproots her family to move to West Africa, she manages her new role as breadwinner while finding women cleverly navigating extraordinary circumstances in a forgotten place for much of the Western world.
“A story you will not soon forget.”—Kathryn Bigelow, Academy Award–winning director of The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty
In 2015, Dionne Searcey was covering the economy for The New York Times, living in Brooklyn with her husband and three young children. Saddled with the demands of a dual-career household and motherhood in an urban setting, her life was in a rut. She decided to pursue a job as the paper’s West Africa bureau chief, an amazing but daunting opportunity to cover a swath of territory encompassing two dozen countries and 500 million people. Landing with her family in Dakar, Senegal, she quickly found their lives turned upside down as they struggled to figure out their place in this new region, along with a new family dynamic where she was the main breadwinner flying off to work while her husband stayed behind to manage the home front.
In Pursuit of Disobedient Women follows Searcey’s sometimes harrowing, sometimes rollicking experiences of her work in the field, the most powerful of which, for her, center on the extraordinary lives and struggles of the women she encounters. As she tries to get an American audience subsumed by the age of Trump and inspired by a feminist revival to pay attention, she is gone from her family for sometimes weeks at a time, covering stories like Boko Haram–conscripted teen-girl suicide bombers or young women in small villages shaking up social norms by getting out of bad marriages. Ultimately, Searcey returns home to reconcile with skinned knees and school plays that happen without her and a begrudging husband thrown into the role of primary parent.
Life, for Searcey, as with most of us, is a balancing act. She weaves a tapestry of women living at the crossroads of old-fashioned patriarchy and an increasingly globalized and connected world. The result is a deeply personal and highly compelling look into a modern-day marriage and a world most of us have barely considered. Readers will find Searcey’s struggles, both with her family and those of the women she meets along the way, familiar and relatable in this smart and moving memoir.
Journalist Searcey trades the subway for the sub-Sahara in this intense account of balancing work and family as West Africa bureau chief for the New York Times from 2015 to 2019. Just as her husband Todd was urging a move from Brooklyn to the suburbs to reduce stress in their dual-career household, Searcy accepted the bureau position and opted instead for a gated villa in the seaside city of Dakar, Senegal, a staff of four, and private school for their children. Once settled, the disparity between old and new lives hit her: "Here, in an instant, we had become superrich people." The constant travel in reporting on 25 countries of West and Central Africa made family life difficult: when her elementary-school age daughter wrote in an essay, "There is no peace at this place," she was floored: "Were we crazy trying to pull this off?" Always hoping for a front-page story and that "my work could be a force for good," Among other stories, Searcey reported on Boko Haram, the Islamic extremist group responsible for kidnapping more than 250 schoolgirls in Chibok, Nigeria, in 2014. Searcey is a straightforward narrator, especially as she describes turning down the Paris bureau chief position in order to return her family to the U.S. ("I had carted across the world and in some ways abandoned him"). Readers will enjoy this earnest look at life as a newspaper bureau chief.