In this memoir that blends poetry and prose, a humanitarian worker finds unlikely friendships and fleeting romances in some of the most violent, impoverished places on Earth.
This is an unconventional memoir, but Dargis (Seven Sonnets, 2012) hasn’t lived a conventional life. In a loosely stitched collection of reveries, she reflects on her years working for humanitarian causes, hopping from one war-torn nation to another seemingly as fast as a Land Rover can traverse a jungle road. Her adventures began in 1984 when she joined the Peace Corps and taught English in Morocco. Later, she traveled to Rwanda to oversee an international response organization following the 1994 genocide. What she encountered—primitive living conditions, ethnic brutality, staff members succumbing to AIDS—was in stark contrast to her Minnesota upbringing. A haunting sonnet entitled “Thy Neighbor’s Heart” captures the work of humanitarian groups in a strife-ridden land: “Truckloads of rightful wares to ease the plight / Of a million plus souls, with prayers, were sent.” While disease, conflict and death loom over the narrative, Dargis also shares insights into local customs and cuisines. In this way, the book is a travelogue born of nose-in-the-dirt experiences that wouldn’t be out of place in a Hemingway novel. Dargis witnessed tanks rolling across the Chadian desert, contracted malaria in Congo and ate gelato with a fortuneteller in Italy. One overarching truth emerges from a lifetime of travel: despite cultural differences, people are the same everywhere. Occasionally, a shortage of info, such as the names of organizations for which Dargis worked, makes it difficult to follow the timeline as she embarks on one perilous assignment after another. Ironically, it is the United States where the author struggles to fit in most. Always pulled toward the horizon, Dargis sees national borders as “invisible barriers” in a journey of self-discovery. In her story, the landscape changes quickly, but the human connections leave a lasting impression.
Poignant recollections of a restless soul whose wanderings taught her that the desire for security, dignity and love transcend the lines on a map.