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Looking for My Country: Finding Myself in America

by Robert MacNeil

This slim memoir focuses on the career of American newsman Robert MacNeil, most notably the former co-anchor of PBS’s MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour. Born on the east coast of Canada, MacNeil has spent much of his life in New York, London, and around the globe on assignment. Looking for My Country loosely reflects on the character of the nations that have housed him and his eventual choice to become an American citizen.

The book begins with fuzzy sentimentality: an innocent Nova Scotian boy getting into mischief, being a dutiful Boy Scout, doing his part around Halifax in a time of crisis (the Second World War) that he doesn’t comprehend. The tone is awash in false naiveté and awkward nostalgia that has no place at the beginning of what is supposed to be a serious memoir. The observations about Canada that follow are either predictable – making too much about the snow, the cold capital, the lack of mythology – or have been expressed better elsewhere, by such writers Robertson Davies and Mordecai Richler, whom MacNeil mentions in passing.

The most absorbing parts of this book concern MacNeil’s experience with the news. Take the Kennedy assassination: he was there covering the President and likely passed Lee Harvey Oswald as Oswald fled the Book Depository and MacNeil burst in looking for a phone to call NBC. Other moments with Nixon and Martin Luther King, not to mention life in the trenches of London’s Fleet Street, are colourful, insightful vignettes. It is a shame they play a minor role in the narrative. MacNeil also dishes just a little dirt on the insularity and deception of American news media, but not enough to be dangerous or surprising – shame again.

Still, MacNeil came to talk nationality, not the news, and Looking for My Country ends much as it began, now with the saccharine, sentimental gaze directed toward the U.S.