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. 12, 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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Thus the second most costly war in American history, whose “outcome seemed little short of a miracle.” A sterling account.


A master storyteller’s character-driven account of a storied year in the American Revolution.

Against world systems, economic determinist and other external-cause schools of historical thought, McCullough (John Adams, 2001, etc.) has an old-fashioned fondness for the great- (and not-so-great) man tradition, which may not have much explanatory power but almost always yields better-written books. McCullough opens with a courteous nod to the customary villain in the story of American independence, George III, who turns out to be a pleasant and artistically inclined fellow who relied on poor advice; his Westmoreland, for instance, was a British general named Grant who boasted that with 5,000 soldiers he “could march from one end of the American continent to the other.” Other British officers agitated for peace, even as George wondered why Americans would not understand that to be a British subject was to be free by definition. Against these men stood arrayed a rebel army that was, at the least, unimpressive; McCullough observes that New Englanders, for instance, considered washing clothes to be women’s work and so wore filthy clothes until they rotted, with the result that Burgoyne and company had a point in thinking the Continentals a bunch of ragamuffins. The Americans’ military fortunes were none too good for much of 1776, the year of the Declaration; at the slowly unfolding battle for control over New York, George Washington was moved to despair at the sight of sometimes drunk soldiers running from the enemy and of their officers “who, instead of attending to their duty, had stood gazing like bumpkins” at the spectacle. For a man such as Washington, to be a laughingstock was the supreme insult, but the British were driven by other motives than to irritate the general—not least of them reluctance to give up a rich, fertile and beautiful land that, McCullough notes, was providing the world’s highest standard of living in 1776.

Thus the second most costly war in American history, whose “outcome seemed little short of a miracle.” A sterling account.

Pub Date: June 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-7432-2671-2

Page Count: 656

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2005

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