FAO Quotables

"But being right, even morally right, isn't everything. It is also important to be competent, to be consistent, and to be knowledgeable. It's important for your soldiers and diplomats to speak the language of the people you want to influence. It's important to understand the ethnic and tribal divisions of the place you hope to assist."
-Anne Applebaum

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Africa book recommendation:The Zanzibar Chest

 I went to a POLAD (Political Advisor) reception last night at the State Department.  What a great event!
RADM Lemmons spoke to the POLADs just prior to the reception and then brought them over so that we could connect and speak to them. 
  I spoke with one gentlemen guy (can someone in their late 20's/early 30's be called a gentlemen without it sounding ostentatious or great gatsbyish?) who'd just come from a posting in Africa and he recommended The Zanzibar Chest by Aidan Hartley.  He said it was one of the best books he'd read on Africa.  And by 'on Africa' he didn't mean a book that systematically detailed or categorized the continent, but instead one that speaks to heart of Africans and their struggles, triumphs and dreams. 

I just ordered the book on Amazon and have provided a brief synopsis of the book below:

From Publishers Weekly
Toward the end of this mesmerizing chronicle, Hartley writes simply of Rwanda, "Like everything in Africa, the truth [is] somewhere in between." Hartley appreciates this complexity, mining the accounts that constitute his book not for the palliative but for the redemptive. Born in 1965 in Kenya into a long lineage of African colonialists, Hartley feels, like his father whose story he also traces, a magnetic, almost inexplicable pull to remain in Africa. Hartley's father imports modernity to the continent (promoting irrigation systems and sophisticated husbandry); later, Hartley himself "exports" Africa as a foreign correspondent for Reuters. Both men struggle to find moral imperatives as "foreigners" native to a continent still emerging from colonialism. Hartley's father concludes, "We should never have come here," and Hartley himself appears understandably beleaguered by the horrors he witnesses (and which he describes impressively) covering Ethiopia, Somalia and Rwanda. Emotionally shattered by the genocide in the latter ("Rwanda sits like a tumour leaking poison into the back of my head"), the journalist returns to his family home in Kenya, where he happens upon the diary of Peter Davey, his father's best friend, in the chest of the book's title. Hartley travels to the Arabian Peninsula to trace Davey's mysterious death in 1947, a story he weaves into the rest of his narrative. The account of Davey, while the least engaging portion of the book, provides Hartley with a perspective for grappling with the legacy that haunts him. This book is a sweeping, poetic homage to Africa, a continent made vivid by Hartley's capable, stunning prose.

NOTE:  Another book he recommended as a reference is Africa: A Biography of the Continent by John Reader.  He said he regularly would refer to this tome before traveling within the continent.

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