A slim but thoughtful rendering of an exotic locale that recalls The Quiet American.



A New Zealand–born philosopher reflects on his years studying an ethnic group in Sierra Leone, weaving in the fictional tale of a young Englishman searching for personal transformation.

Jackson (World Religions/Harvard Divinity School; The Wherewithal of Life: Ethics, Migration and the Question of Wellbeing, 2013, etc.) calls this experimental novella “A Philosophical Fiction,” and he divides it into two distinct sections. The first, “Limitrophes,” is composed of short vignettes about West Africa, where he has spent much time, interspersed with thoughtful but generic observations about the world. His theme is often rebirth. “It’s not always where and when you were born that matters,” writes the author; “it’s where you were reborn—when you were initiated into adulthood and with whom; when you walked away from an arranged or unfulfilling marriage; when you decided to quit a dead end job; when you left your natal village and risked your life crossing the borderlands to the global north….” It’s the fiction in the aftermath from which the book takes its name; a “harmattan” is the hot, dry and dusty wind that covers West Africa in the wintertime, bringing desertlike weather conditions. Into this real-world setting, Jackson introduces a young British student, Tom Lannon, who has come to meet a writer acquaintance, Ezekiel Mansaray. Both men are locked in passionless relationships with women and are seeking genuine experiences. In Tom’s case, he is retracing the path of Scottish explorer Alexander Gordon Laing’s journey from the Sierra Leone coast to the interior, after which Tom plans to write a book juxtaposing his own experiences with that journey from 1822. His journey is ultimately transformative but certainly not in the way he might have imagined. “You see, there are no real gifts in this world!” says Ezekiel. “We pay the price for everything we get. And some of us pay more dearly than others.”

A slim but thoughtful rendering of an exotic locale that recalls The Quiet American.

Pub Date: April 21, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-231-17235-6

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Columbia Univ.

Review Posted Online: Dec. 13, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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