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.