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MY FRIEND THE MERCENARY by James Brabazon Kirkus Star


A Memoir

by James Brabazon

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-8021-1975-9
Publisher: Grove

Intensely vivid story of war and the peculiar breed of warriors who fight it in 21st-century Africa.

An award-winning filmmaker and frontline war reporter, Brabazon cut his teeth in the Liberian rainforest, marching hundreds of miles with the rebels of Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy, who were seeking to overthrow the despotic Charles Taylor in February 2002. Before the author’s reports for the BBC radio, the existence of LURD was just a rumor. But for the company of a seasoned South African military man and adventurer named Nick du Toit, it might have been up to another intrepid journalist to get the scoop. The green Brabazon might not have survived even the dysentery that laid him low a few days into the journey, let alone gunfire or worse during bloody skirmishes with Taylor’s troops, if not for du Toit’s experienced hand nearby. Their bond survived the horrors of Liberia’s civil war on that trip and others, despite the author’s suspicions (and friends’ warnings) about du Toit’s history with the apartheid-era Special Forces and his new careers as arms dealer and soldier of fortune. The man the author knew seemed gentle and humane, as well as fearless. Brabazon’s respect for du Toit led him to seriously consider his invitation to film a coup he and “business partners” were plotting against another despot, Teodoro Obiango of Equatorial Guinea. Ironically, a family tragedy saved the author from his friend’s fate: capture by Obiango and horrific torture at the hands of his security forces in the notorious Black Beach prison, where Obiango had begun his career in brutality. The book opens with stomach-churning accounts of the torture that du Toit and his co-conspirators suffered, based partly on videos the torturers made. Brabazon himself was unflinching as a documentarian of war, and his prose is no less sparing, whether describing the gruesome reality of guerrilla combat or the agonizing moral quandaries of battle. The first two-thirds of the book offer as thrilling a narrative as any war novel on the shelves, and the finale is as clear a picture of the murky world of postcolonial Africa as the readers are likely to get.

A haunting memoir and tribute to an extraordinary comrade-at-arms.