Lawrenceville’s Carmen Gentile
    Carmen Gentile working on the first draft of his book, January 2014.

    Carmen Gentile working on the first draft of his book, January 2014.

    September 9, 2010: It was much like any other day for U.S. Army troops and one embedded journalist in the desert of eastern Afghanistan. Hot, hungry, and homesick, no one had showered recently in a place where perhaps the only predictable thing is unpredictability. No one had gotten killed or injured … yet.

    Working for CBS Radio and USA Today, Carmen Gentile was a professional journalist since 1998 after focusing on Islamic studies and philosophy at Villanova University. But what happened on this day would predict that his next story could define his own life story.

    As Gentile wrapped up a video conversation with some young Afghan men along the roadside, he felt uneasy. Then he turned towards an unmistakable whistling sound and trail of smoke.

    “The rocket seems to be trained just on me,” he writes in his book. “Time slows down confirming the cliché at life’s final moments.”

    Cut to May 2018 when about 50 of Gentile’s longtime friends and fans gathered at Bloomfield’s White Whale Bookstore. Many had not seen him for decades. The deep appreciation that Gentile had indeed survived the face-shattering wound was palpable.

    Moments after Carmen Gentile was injured, Sgt. Grant Aaron Thomson administers first aid while others tend to Lt. Derek Zotto (right, on ground), whose arm was injured by the same rocket that hit Gentile.

    Moments after Carmen Gentile was injured, Sgt. Grant Aaron Thomson administers first aid while others tend to Lt. Derek Zotto (right, on ground), whose arm was injured by the same rocket that hit Gentile.

    At the bookstore, Gentile recounted that day in 2009 from his Blindsided by the Taliban: A Journalist’s Story of War, Trauma, Love, and Loss (Skyhorse Publishing, 2018). The New Kensington native quipped, “It helped me professionally to get shot in the face.” His dark sense of humor pervades his writing and conversation, but that night he admitted he told his parents they could not attend his reading. In his book’s Acknowledgements he thanks his “folks and family” but warns them: “I’m aware you might be mad after reading this.”

    Perhaps they were not so much angry as worried. Gentile depended on the support of his parents, sister, and friends as he navigated four surgeries and some very dramatic actual highs and lows following the shattering of the right side of his face. By the first five months of 2014, he isolated himself in a “ramshackle shack” in Fayette County to write his book, emerging with a rough draft and a better reckoning with what had really happened to him.

    Gentile recounts how expert surgeons and an ophthalmologist miraculously reconstructed his face and saved his eye even as he struggled with relationships and self-care. Now married and the father of a two-year-old daughter, he’s transformed in many ways.

    The adventurous spirit that drove him to be a journalist remains intact. He has returned to work and made many trips back to Afghanistan from his new home and family base in Croatia. No less daring, Gentile considers “calculated risks” when taking assignments or exploring on his own. Being a father, he says, has changed him. “She is growing up before my very eyes,” he happily admits.

    A whirlwind of media appearances including NBC’s Today ensued since his book’s publication in March. He considers the stream of coverage more than about just selling books.

    “Anything that gets the word out is helpful and helped me to find a voice for talking about my work,” Gentile says. He now regards his profession less analytically and realizes that he has found his “own voice when speaking about my own work.”

    In addition to media reviews, reader recommendations note that Gentile’s raw candor and first-person voice keep them turning the pages. Gentile argued for the first-person perspective, which keeps the narrative urgent and engaging. Some readers say they don’t even mind his cussing—it’s so appropriately part of his compelling and candid style. Blindsided is laced with irreverence, irony, and dark humor as he reveals the realities of war and one of the longest conflicts in which the U.S. has taken part.

    Following his recovery Gentile lived in one of two Lawrenceville houses he bought in 2004. When not traveling and returning for about six months a year to Afghanistan, he enjoyed about a third of each year in Pittsburgh, becoming a regular at Arsenal Lanes.

    “As I was walking around Lawrenceville, there were a dozen new restaurants, so I was confused and amazed at the same time,” he observes. “I have childhood memories of my dad taking me down to the Strip when it was just wholesalers,” he says, recalling trash barrels burning early on winter mornings and teenage concert-going at Metropol.

    “I keep a close eye on Pittsburgh,” he said at White Whale. “You can take the boy out of the ’Burgh, but you can’t take the ’Burgh out of me!”

    Meanwhile, Gentile now works solo and with other writers to “shed light on the dark places in the world.” Whether describing places of beauty or devastation in words or images, Gentile is committed to “calculated” risk-taking these days.

    “I long for the old days of journalism,” Gentile admits. “But I consider myself a storyteller first and a journalist second.”

    Yvonne Hudson, a Pittsburgh writer and editor, grew up in Indiana, PA, and is a journalism alumna of Point Park University; she earned an M.A. at the University of Pittsburgh. When she’s not writing, she appears in her solo show Mrs. Shakespeare. Her website is newplace.us.