> Zed Book Club / Eric Reguly Gets to Know His Late Father by Writing a Book About the Famed Canadian War Correspondent

Photo: Liana Miuccio

> Bookshelf

Eric Reguly Gets to Know His Late Father by Writing a Book About the Famed Canadian War Correspondent

In "Ghosts of War," the Globe and Mail journalist travels to Vietnam in an effort to reconcile Robert Reguly's globe-trotting career with his family life / BY Ian Coutts / May 5th, 2022

In the ’60s and ’70s, Robert Reguly was one of Canada’s top investigative journalists, working for the Toronto Star in the golden era of daily newspapers. He won a National Newspaper Award for his story tracking down crooked union boss Hal Banks in New York after he had fled Canada ahead of criminal prosecution. He won another for discovering the whereabouts Gerda Munsinger, a former call girl suspected of being an East German spy, who had dallied with a number of Canadian politicians. Some people though she was dead; he found her in Munich, very much alive. Later, as a globetrotting war correspondent, he covered the Vietnam War. Then it all went wrong. In Ghosts of War: Chasing My Father’s Legend Through Vietnam, his son, Eric Reguly, a columnist and foreign correspondent based in Rome for the Globe and Mail, recounts his father’s career and tries to understand the man.

Ian Coutts: What made you decide to write about your father?

Eric Reguly: There’s no easy answer. One is I felt I never really knew the man. When he was at the peak of his career in the 60s until about the mid 70s, I was young, and all I saw was this glamorous thrill-seeker running around the world. We lived this incredibly exotic life in Italy and Washington and Toronto and Ottawa, and it seemed normal to me at the time. As I grew older, I realized that our lifestyle was unique.

But also I was fascinated with journalism. I became a journalist in good part – not entirely – because I wanted to replicate my father’s career. I’m a bit like my father in some ways: I’m allergic to routine, I don’t like office life, I’m quite independent, I like traveling, I like languages, I like people, and those are all things that motivated my father.

Eric Reguly

IC: In terms of form, it’s an interesting book, because it’s part biography, part personal memoir and part history. What made you choose this approach?

ER: I actually didn’t think it out that much. I didn’t agonize over this book as much as some authors do. I wrote it the way I did to have a complete picture of him, and, to do that, I had to put his life in the context of an era and his family. All those elements had to come in.

IC: I know you were at least planning the book before COVID-19 hit. What was it like trying to write it after everything shut down?

ER: I wrote the book entirely during the pandemic. The lockdown in Italy was severe – the first and the longest and the most deadly. I wasn’t mentally prepared for that. As a foreign correspondent, you’re used to travelling constantly, meeting people, and all of a sudden, my professional career as a journalist had gone upside down. I was doing everything from my desk in Rome, and I thought, ‘now I am going to go into a book, which is even more of an isolating experience?’

I did go through some burnout between the book and the job and the sheer loneliness, but in the end it worked out well. My lack of travel meant I didn’t come home exhausted, and I had the energy to dive into this book. So, in that sense, if it weren’t for the pandemic, I would probably not have finished this book.

IC: It’s interesting read about newspapers in the 1960s when they seemed to dominate the news cycle to a degree they don’t now. And the competition was so intense.

ER: That was one of the most fun things about writing the book. Scoops were everything. Now scoops are ripped off or plagiarized within seconds. No one even knows who broke the story. Back then, you could hold onto scoops. Like the Toronto Star held onto the Gerda Munsinger and Hal Banks stories. Back then they were ultracompetitive, to the point where, with the Gerda Munsinger story, the first edition of the paper was a fake front – I just love that – and then the real story came out.

IC: Could a young journalist today be the kind of reporter your dad was?

ER: No. The era was much more liberating for a journalist. First of all, there were almost no [public relations] people back then. With almost everyone important I interview, I have to go through a layer of PR people, and it’s much worse in Europe than in North America. I have to write emails, list my questions – it’s a whole process. That did not exist back then, so there was much less spin. My father said that, too.

In Vietnam, there were no controls, and my father said it was an incredibly liberating experience. The only restriction was that you could not report militarily important information that could get American troops killed. You didn’t need permits; you could hitchhike on helicopters and trucks. He said some reporters bought motorcycles, simply drove into battle, and abandoned them.

IC: At one point, when talking about your father’s experiences in Vietnam, you mentioned there was one time when he actually had to use a gun to defend himself and really ceased being a reporter.

ER: I struggled a lot with that, because reporters aren’t supposed to do that, and I challenged him on that. I regret not challenging him more on it, but you know, when he died 11 years ago, I had no idea I was going to do this book. Or visit Vietnam.

On that particular mission, when he went in with the marines, he went in with 700 people and 200 came out. [He said] the marines were dying around him in great numbers, they weren’t going to protect a war tourist, so they handed him a gun, two grenades and, I think, a pack of marijuana and a shovel, and they said, ‘you’re on your own.’ He said, ‘I never actually took specific aim at anyone, I just sprayed when I thought I was about to get killed.’ I still found this incredible. What would I have done in the same situation? I don’t know.

IC: You visited Vietnam before the pandemic, to see where your father had been. A lot of it was unrecognizable now. But there was a Montagnard village he had reported from when it was being evacuated.

ER: The only place I felt his spirit there, and I know it sounds corny, but I was actually tingling, was the highlands when I went to that Montagnard village, and I interviewed the old man who was part of the evacuation. I felt that my dad met this guy. I felt my father’s ghost and I felt really close to him. That moment – that one moment – made the entire trip, and I think made the book. Because that’s when I connected with my father.

IC: After your father left the Star, he went to the Toronto Sun, where he was successfully sued by former Liberal cabinet minister John Munro over a story he had co-written with Don Ramsay who, it turned out, didn’t have the evidence to back it up. It ended his newspaper career.

ER: I still think about it every day. That was the only story in his life that he wrote with a double byline. He was a loner, and the one time he worked with another journalist, it ended his career. My father, in a sense, trusted no one, and he was an ultra-careful reporter. But, at the same time, he was awfully naïve, trusting of his friends and he considered Ramsay a friend, and didn’t check out his sources. And you know, he never really recovered from it. It destroyed him.

IC: You wanted to discover who your father was. So who was he?

ER: If there’s one thing I learned about him, he wasn’t just a thrill seeker, he was an extraordinarily brave man who took risks to find the truth. That’s basically what I found in this book, in a sentence. He was a truth warrior.



Salman Rushdie, Novelist Who Drew Death Threats, Is Stabbed at New York LectureThe Indian-born novelist who was ordered killed by Iran in 1989 because of his writing, was attacked before giving a talk on artistic freedom.

Raymond Briggs, Creator of Beloved Children’s Tale ‘The Snowman’, Dies at 88First published in 1978, the pencil crayon-illustrated wordless picture book sold more than 5.5 million copies around the world while a television adaption became a Christmas favourite in Britain and was nominated for an Oscar.

Canadian Author Emily St. John Mandel Makes Barack Obama’s 2022 Summer Reading ListObama's list includes everything from fiction to books on politics, cultural exploration and basketball.

Canadian Author Rebecca Eckler to Launch RE:books Publishing House Focused on Female Authors and Fun ReadsThe former National Post columnist says her tagline is ‘What’s read is good, and what’s good is read.’”

Brian Thomas Isaac’s “All the Quiet Places” wins $5,000 Indigenous Voices AwardThe B.C. author, a retired bricklayer, drew on his childhood growing up on the Okanagan Indian reserve for his coming-of-age story set in 1956

Canadian-American Author Ruth Ozeki Wins Women’s Book Prize for “The Book of Form and Emptiness”The UK judges said her fourth novel, inspired in part by the Vancouver Public Library, contained "sparkling writing, warmth, intelligence, humour and poignancy."

The Bill Gates Summer Reading List Includes a Sci-Fi Novel On Gender Inequality Suggested by His DaughterBill Gates' summer reading list includes fiction and non-fiction titles that cover gender equality, political polarization and climate change.

American novelist Joshua Cohen wins the Pulitzer Prize for fiction for “The Netanyahus”The 2022 Pulitzer prizes include this satirical look at identity politics, focused on the father of former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at a crucial time in the Jewish state’s history

Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro Among Canadian Authors Recognized in Commemorative Reading List Marking Queen’s Platinum JubileeThe authors are among six Canadian scribes included on the The Big Jubilee Read list.

Queen Elizabeth II’s Aide Reveals Details of Life in Royal Pandemic Lockdown in New Addition to BookAngela Kelly, who's worked for the Queen for 20 years, discusses everything from cutting the Queen's hair to "the light and laughter that was shared ... even in the darkest moments."

New Leonard Cohen Story Collection, ‘A Ballet of Lepers,’ Set for October ReleaseThe collection features a novel, short stories and a radio play written between 1956 and 1961.

Archived Letters Reveal How Toni Morrison Helped MacKenzie Scott Meet Future Husband Jeff BezosBezos hired Scott at the hedge fund where he worked after receiving a recommendation from Morrison. Shortly thereafter, the pair married and Scott helped Bezos launch Amazon.

Prince Harry’s Memoir is Set to Rock the MonarchyFriends say the California-based royal got a million-pound book deal to write "an intimate take on his feeling about the family."

European Jewish Congress Asks Publisher to Pull Anne Frank BookThe Congress says 'The Betrayal of Anne Frank' has "deeply hurt the memory of Anne Frank, as well as the dignity of the survivors and the victims of the Holocaust."

Canadian Author Details Anne Frank Cold-Case Investigation That Named Surprise Suspect in Her Family’s Betrayal in New BookAhead of the 75th anniversary of the publication of Frank's 'The Diary of a Young Girl' in June, a team that included a retired FBI agent and around 20 historians, criminologists and data specialists identified a relatively unknown figure as a leading suspect in revealing her family's hideout.

Man Who Tricked Authors Into Handing Over Unpublished Manuscripts Arrested by FBI in New YorkFilippo Bernardini, an employee of a well known publication house, has been arrested for stealing hundreds of unpublished manuscripts.

Hollywood Legend Betty White Has a Last Laugh in New Biographic Comic BookThe creators of the biographical comic book have released similar books about Hollywood legends like Carrie Fisher, Lucille Ball, David Bowie and Elizabeth Taylor.

Barack Obama Reveals His List of Books That Left “A Lasting Impression” in 2021Obama's favourite 2021 reads include two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning author Colson Whitehead's 'Harlem Shuffle' and 'Klara and the Sun,' by Nobel Prize-winning author Kazuo Ishiguro

“Interview With the Vampire” Author Anne Rice Dies at 80 — Tributes Pour in From Stuart Townsend and OthersThe author, who was best known for her work in gothic fiction, died on Saturday evening as a result of complications from a stroke.

Norma Dunning wins $25,000 Governor General’s English fiction prize for ‘Tainna’The Edmonton-based Inuk writer explores themes of displacement, loneliness and spirituality in six short stories

Omar El Akkad wins $100,000 Giller prize for “What Strange Paradise”The former Globe and Mail reporter, who published "American War" to acclaim in 2017, tackles the global migrant refugee crisis in his second novel

South African Author Damon Galgut Wins the Booker Prize For ‘The Promise’Galgut received nominations for his 2003 and 2010 works before finally taking home the prize this year. 

Hollywood Legend Paul Newman Discusses Life, Acting and Aging Gracefully in Newly Discovered MemoirPublishers of the newly discovered memoir say the Hollywood legend wrote the book in the 1980s in response to the relentless media attention he received during that time.

Here’s What You Need to Know About the Toronto International Festival of AuthorsDirector Roland Gulliver lands in Toronto to open his second, much-expanded virtual festival with more than 200 events

Tanzanian Novelist Gurnah Wins 2021 Nobel Prize in Literature for Depicting the Impact of Colonialism and Refugee StoriesGurnah, 72, is only the second writer from sub-Saharan Africa to win one of the world's most prestigious literary awards

Miriam Toews Garners Third Giller Prize Nomination for “Fight Night” after Shortlist AnnouncedSophomore efforts from novelists Omar El Akkad and Jordan Tannahill join debut books from Cheluchi Onyemelukwe-Onuobia and Angélique Lalonde

Tina Brown’s New Book, ‘The Palace Papers’, Covers the Royal Family’s Reinvention After Diana’s Tragic DeathTina Brown's sequel to her 2007 release 'The Diana Chronicles' is set to hit shelves April 12, 2022. 

Audible.ca Releases Andrew Pyper’s Exclusive Audiobook “Oracle” For New Plus Catalogue LaunchThe thriller about a psychic FBI detective is one of 12,000 titles now available for free to members

Barack Obama and Bruce Springsteen to Release Book Based On Their “Renegades” PodcastThe new book will feature a collection of candid, intimate and entertaining conversations

Prince Harry Will Publish a Memoir in Late 2022Harry says he's writing the book "not as the prince I was born but as the man I have become."


Sign Up for the Weekly Book Club Newsletter