Raised by British parents in East Africa, former Reuters
correspondent Hartley chronicles a decade of encounters with the
world's bloodiest conflicts and considers the twisted legacy of
colonialism through the microcosm of his own family. Not for the
squeamish, these accounts of Ethiopia, Somalia, Bosnia, Rwanda, and
other conflicts seethe with shocking and grisly consequences often
wrought, in the author's view, by the "one-size-fits-all solutions"
imposed by well-intentioned but clueless Western power structures.
United Nations peacekeepers are portrayed as effete by design
(undermanned, underequipped, etc.), spooked in fog-of-war
conditions, and when left to their own devices occasionally capable
of barbarities that mimic the African adversaries they are supposed
to buffer. American efforts in Somalia are viewed as typically
cynical, exploiting technological superiority to gain PR or
political benefit, but almost always arriving too late and leaving
too soon, with neither concern for nor full comprehension of the
inevitable aftermath. Food drops left unguarded in starving
villages, for example, are simply commandeered by the local
warlords who rule by terror. Hartley's m.o. is to recount the
impact of these revelations on his own psyche, along with his
rationalizations, yearnings, and compensations practiced in the
company of likeminded "hacks": foreign correspondents who regularly
drink, drug, and fornicate to excess in the name of requisite
therapy. They are mostly runaways, he postulates, "from emotional
distress at home, divorce, bereavement, career burnout, boredom, or
simply themselves." As most of his close companions become
casualties, an intermittently persistent love affair with a young
American photographer provides the obligatory passionate interludes
that punctuate the horror. His native's perspective on African
affairs enhances the narrative, although a habitual barrage of
corroborating details-no projectile breaks a window without
notation of its probable caliber-sometimes doesn't. Overall, morbid
and engaging. (Kirkus Reviews)
A deeply affecting memoir of a childhood in Africa and the
continent's horrendous wars, which Hartley witnessed at first hand
as a journalist in the 1990s. Shortlisted for the prestigious
Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-fiction, this is a masterpiece of
autobiographical journalism. Aidan Hartley, a foreign
correspondent, burned-out from the horror of covering the
terrifying micro wars of the 1990s, from Rwanda to Bosnia, seeks
solace and solitude in the remote mountains and deserts of southern
Arabia and the Yemen, following his father's death. While there, he
finds himself on the trail of the tragic story of an old friend of
his father's, who fell in love and was murdered in southern Arabia
fifty years ago. As the terrible events of the past unfold, Hartley
finds his own kind of deliverance. 'The Zanzibar Chest' is a
powerful story about a man witnessing and confronting extreme
violence and being broken down by it, and of a son trying to come
to terms with the death of a father whom he also saw as his best
friend. It charts not only a love affair between two people, but
also the British love affair with Arabia and the vast emptinesses
of the desert, which become a fitting metaphor for the emotional
and spiritual condition in which Hartley finds himself.
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