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A deeply affecting memoir of a childhood in Africa and the continent's horrendous wars, which Hartley witnessed at first hand as a journalist in the 1990s. Shortlisted for the prestigious Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-fiction, this is a masterpiece of autobiographical journalism. Aidan Hartley, a foreign correspondent, burned-out from the horror of covering the terrifying mi A deeply affecting memoir of a childhood in Africa and the continent's horrendous wars, which Hartley witnessed at first hand as a journalist in the 1990s. Shortlisted for the prestigious Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-fiction, this is a masterpiece of autobiographical journalism. Aidan Hartley, a foreign correspondent, burned-out from the horror of covering the terrifying micro wars of the 1990s, from Rwanda to Bosnia, seeks solace and solitude in the remote mountains and deserts of southern Arabia and the Yemen, following his father’s death. While there, he finds himself on the trail of the tragic story of an old friend of his father’s, who fell in love and was murdered in southern Arabia fifty years ago. As the terrible events of the past unfold, Hartley finds his own kind of deliverance. ‘The Zanzibar Chest’ is a powerful story about a man witnessing and confronting extreme violence and being broken down by it, and of a son trying to come to terms with the death of a father whom he also saw as his best friend. It charts not only a love affair between two people, but also the British love affair with Arabia and the vast emptinesses of the desert, which become a fitting metaphor for the emotional and spiritual condition in which Hartley finds himself.


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A deeply affecting memoir of a childhood in Africa and the continent's horrendous wars, which Hartley witnessed at first hand as a journalist in the 1990s. Shortlisted for the prestigious Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-fiction, this is a masterpiece of autobiographical journalism. Aidan Hartley, a foreign correspondent, burned-out from the horror of covering the terrifying mi A deeply affecting memoir of a childhood in Africa and the continent's horrendous wars, which Hartley witnessed at first hand as a journalist in the 1990s. Shortlisted for the prestigious Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-fiction, this is a masterpiece of autobiographical journalism. Aidan Hartley, a foreign correspondent, burned-out from the horror of covering the terrifying micro wars of the 1990s, from Rwanda to Bosnia, seeks solace and solitude in the remote mountains and deserts of southern Arabia and the Yemen, following his father’s death. While there, he finds himself on the trail of the tragic story of an old friend of his father’s, who fell in love and was murdered in southern Arabia fifty years ago. As the terrible events of the past unfold, Hartley finds his own kind of deliverance. ‘The Zanzibar Chest’ is a powerful story about a man witnessing and confronting extreme violence and being broken down by it, and of a son trying to come to terms with the death of a father whom he also saw as his best friend. It charts not only a love affair between two people, but also the British love affair with Arabia and the vast emptinesses of the desert, which become a fitting metaphor for the emotional and spiritual condition in which Hartley finds himself.

30 review for The Zanzibar Chest: A Memoir of Love and War

  1. 4 out of 5

    Sharon W.

    To be completely honest, Aiden Hartley, although I envy his travels, is a pompous prick. he wanders around Africa pretending that it is his, and yet knows nothing of the people he lives "with." He hangs out with white people in white bars, and is essentially a whiny ex-pat child even though he was born in Kenya. And then Ex-pats (of every culture) wonder why everyone hates them; It's because of people like Aiden Hartley. To be completely honest, Aiden Hartley, although I envy his travels, is a pompous prick. he wanders around Africa pretending that it is his, and yet knows nothing of the people he lives "with." He hangs out with white people in white bars, and is essentially a whiny ex-pat child even though he was born in Kenya. And then Ex-pats (of every culture) wonder why everyone hates them; It's because of people like Aiden Hartley.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Jim

    I found this book to be absolutely riveting. Hartley has actually related two tales here, one detailing his quest to shed some light on the circumstances surrounding the death of his father's friend Peter Davey; the other tale relates Hartley's own story from his education abroad to his misadventures as a foreign/war correspondent for the Reuters news agency. As a journalist, he was dispatched to the world's hotspots: Croatia, Somalia, and Rwanda being foremost in my memory. He broke bread and r I found this book to be absolutely riveting. Hartley has actually related two tales here, one detailing his quest to shed some light on the circumstances surrounding the death of his father's friend Peter Davey; the other tale relates Hartley's own story from his education abroad to his misadventures as a foreign/war correspondent for the Reuters news agency. As a journalist, he was dispatched to the world's hotspots: Croatia, Somalia, and Rwanda being foremost in my memory. He broke bread and rubbed shoulders with murderers and generals, nurses and nuns. He has witnessed inhumanity on such a grand scale that it's a wonder that he can even string sentences together today. He has attended far too many funerals for a man his age. Hartley is African, born in Kenya and residing there to this day, so he can write about events on that continent with a legitimacy that a foreigner might lack. While he may be judgemental, he is compassionately so. He hides nothing from the reader, and relates his own faults and failings as readily as he points out flaws in others. He spares no detail, so the squeamish may be turned off by this book. The reader will learn some things about journalism and the news networks, or perhaps have their worst suspicions confirmed: what is reported as fact is often untrue or twisted by the network in order to draw viewers or readers. One miracle child pulled from a pile of quicklimed bodies in a mass grave in Rwanda expired that very night, but was reported alive afterward in order to generate interest and retain an audience. When one of a famous actresses' photographers stepped on the arm of a malnourished child, it was kept out of the news as bad publicity. The book has some flaws, a bit of sloppiness perhaps. The Canadian Royal Air Force he refers to on page 372 does not exist: it's the Royal Canadian Air Force. The way Hartley wrote it makes a proud military unit seem like a subsidiary of the Royal Air Force. And I would love to know what a "short-muzzle" Enfield rifle is (p.416). Presumably he refers to the old SMLE...the "M" stands for magazine, not muzzle! There are some photos scattered throughout the book, but regrettably none of them are captioned so I was never sure of who or what was in the photo. But while they are a minor annoyance, the flaws do not significantly detract from what is a great book written by a man who was eyewitness to some of the most horrific events in history.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Mattie

    In many ways, this is a 5-star book. Horrifying, inspiring, bloody, real. Once I got sucked in, I wanted to read this book every. single. minute. and at the same time toss aside my peaceful, happy life and do what I already knew that I wanted to do. For me, reading this book was both utterly absorbing and incredibly painful: how could I bear to sit and read when there is SO MUCH going on out there? (Out there, you know, the greater world, adventure, war, sex-drugs-and-rock-and-roll: that familia In many ways, this is a 5-star book. Horrifying, inspiring, bloody, real. Once I got sucked in, I wanted to read this book every. single. minute. and at the same time toss aside my peaceful, happy life and do what I already knew that I wanted to do. For me, reading this book was both utterly absorbing and incredibly painful: how could I bear to sit and read when there is SO MUCH going on out there? (Out there, you know, the greater world, adventure, war, sex-drugs-and-rock-and-roll: that familiar joint pull to your chest and gut that good movies and books do so well) Hartley charts his family history as intertwined with the rise and fall of the old British empire. Throughout, he mixes in his own story: born in Kenya, educated in England (yawn), and finally a war correspondent for Reuters in Africa through the 1990s. You know what that means. (If you don't, here's a start: Famine in Ethiopia. State collapse in Somalia. Genocide in Rwanda. And you know what, it's not Africa, but what the heck, let's through a little bit of Serbia during the Balkan Wars in there too.) He sees, and does, it all. And writes honestly about it. One of the strengths of this book, aside from engrossing storytelling (Which. Is. Amazing.), is Hartley's brutal honesty when exposing the idiocy of the current international system - news companies, aid agencies, religious organizations, the military (being a Brit, he is naturally hard on the American military -- which is probably 100% deserved as you will see), even the much-revered UN and African Union (formerly the OAU). Oddly enough, he didn't seem quite as realistically critical of the British Empire -- those criticisms seemed much more philosophical to me. But now I'm rambling. Hartley's good writing is 5-stars all around, up and down. I found the book a bit flawed -- for me, the side story of a family friend in Yemen lacked meaning, his own sort of bragging through the first few chapters, and his family history almost meant I didn't make it to the meat of the book: Hartley's adult life. I wanted to tear through sections in haste so I could get back to what I liked. I must admit, however, that the book is almost even more lovable because of this. It becomes more real.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Michael Flanagan

    The author delivers a book that will stay with me long after the last page is turned. One quarter travelogue, another family history and the other half memoirs the author shows us Africa in all it's brutality and sadness. Not what I was expecting but an essential read to remind us what we should not forget. The author delivers a book that will stay with me long after the last page is turned. One quarter travelogue, another family history and the other half memoirs the author shows us Africa in all it's brutality and sadness. Not what I was expecting but an essential read to remind us what we should not forget.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Tariq Mahmood

    Classic, absolutely classic memoir of a very fulfilled life. Part of the narrative was as good as the 'Heart of Darkness'. What a story, kept me captivated and engaged throughout the 440 odd pages. For me the most interesting aspect was the self reflection of the White colonisation of Africa. I tend to agree with Hartley's dad. They should have never gone into Africa. Whence gone in they should never have left it. Arabs colonised Africa before the Europeans, and they stayed on, slowly converting Classic, absolutely classic memoir of a very fulfilled life. Part of the narrative was as good as the 'Heart of Darkness'. What a story, kept me captivated and engaged throughout the 440 odd pages. For me the most interesting aspect was the self reflection of the White colonisation of Africa. I tend to agree with Hartley's dad. They should have never gone into Africa. Whence gone in they should never have left it. Arabs colonised Africa before the Europeans, and they stayed on, slowly converting the local cultures to Islam. Now it is impossible to differentiate between the two races in Africa. This book is a homage to the few but extremely courageous Europeans who decided to stay on, long after their mother-ship had decided to go back. Aidan's experiences in some of the most vile and despicable massacres in Africa clearly demonstrates the important role of white man still has in controlling human disasters on unimaginable scale in Africa. Perhaps the most important insight I have had from the book is the working of the Western media when covering human catastrophes, where there is an implicit policy of fitting the pigeon holes of the Charities, reader’s fatigue, and stock market reactions. It does seem like that traditional media has become pretty ineffective and needs to be completely redefined. Read the book if you want to witness the real face of human nature.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Margaret Sankey

    Anecdotally-driven account of Hartley's experiences as a reporter in Africa in the 1990s, framed by his family's generations of British colonial service in India, Aden, Kenya and Arabia and his own coming of age during decolonization and the political repercussions of 1989 Soviet withdrawal from Africa. Part of the power of this book is inadvertent, as the more Hartley insists that he is from Kenya, the more it is clear that ex-pats may be from a place, but never really of it. Anecdotally-driven account of Hartley's experiences as a reporter in Africa in the 1990s, framed by his family's generations of British colonial service in India, Aden, Kenya and Arabia and his own coming of age during decolonization and the political repercussions of 1989 Soviet withdrawal from Africa. Part of the power of this book is inadvertent, as the more Hartley insists that he is from Kenya, the more it is clear that ex-pats may be from a place, but never really of it.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Tom

    In the first 20 or so pages I was grumbling as I found myself drowning in adjectives. Though, as Hartley hits his stride, the prose loses the overwritten feel and develops into a very fine book. I'm not sure he needed the device of 'the Zanzibar chest' as a framing tool. It's almost insecurity. Almost like he didn't think the true stories of an intrepid reporter in the middle of the worst of the worst atrocities in Mogadishu and Rwanda would hold the reader's interest so he needed to spice it up In the first 20 or so pages I was grumbling as I found myself drowning in adjectives. Though, as Hartley hits his stride, the prose loses the overwritten feel and develops into a very fine book. I'm not sure he needed the device of 'the Zanzibar chest' as a framing tool. It's almost insecurity. Almost like he didn't think the true stories of an intrepid reporter in the middle of the worst of the worst atrocities in Mogadishu and Rwanda would hold the reader's interest so he needed to spice it up with this fable-like construction that almost acted as a speed bump for me. I'm not exactly sure how I would've structured it differently; as I wouldn't want to lose the story of his father and Davey, but the way it wove in and out of Aidan's story was often awkward. Basically, I think he needed a better editor. The Somalia and Rwanda sections, in particular, were amazing and didn't need some cutesy narrative device. I don't think I agree that Aidan seems disconnected from Africans; I think that's a hard argument to make after reading the book. Colonialism, on the other hand, is an interesting character throughout. While the, "we should never have come here" thread is strong; at time he waivers in Somalia, as he thinks colonialism is exactly what is necessary to end the killing. There is sincere hope that the Americans will bring with them, ultimately, ballot boxes and hospitals. After reading a book like King Leopold's Ghost, one sort of winces at any statement that's even vaguely pro-colonial, but he's certainly right. In Rwanda or Mogadishu, there is certainly a compelling moral argument for international intervention of some kind.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Foster

    While the first 100 pages or so were hard to get through due to the boasting tone Hartley took as he listed off all of his adventurous British ancestors, this changed as he began writing about his own experiences as a reporter in Africa. His account of this time was amplified due to him being witness to (or involved in) every major conflict to grip Africa in the late 80s and 90s. Ethiopa, Rwanda, Somalia - they are all here and in a vivid detail I had not encountered before. What makes Hartley's While the first 100 pages or so were hard to get through due to the boasting tone Hartley took as he listed off all of his adventurous British ancestors, this changed as he began writing about his own experiences as a reporter in Africa. His account of this time was amplified due to him being witness to (or involved in) every major conflict to grip Africa in the late 80s and 90s. Ethiopa, Rwanda, Somalia - they are all here and in a vivid detail I had not encountered before. What makes Hartley's writing so compelling is the brutal honesty. He spares no-one, not even himself. He lays bare his own weaknesses, dalliances, and regrets. He also pulls no punches when it comes to those around him. Most novel for me was to hear him lay the blame for the conflicts he saw squarely at the feet of the participants. While he did call out the UN and some multinational forces for mismanagement, inefficiency, and unrealistic goals - he focused his blame for the root cause of the problems the UN was trying to fix on the Africans. Some of his descriptions of life in Somalia, and the mindset of a Somali tribal fighter, were truly mind-boggling. His account of the Rwandan genocide was harrowing, and will stay with me. Given such powerful stories, the "other" narrative he weaves throughout the book - his attempt to piece together the life of his father's friend - pales in comparison. I'm sure it was an important journey for him personally, but it is difficult to connect with. Overall a great read - after page 100 I couldn't put it down.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Lenny Husen

    Truly 5 stars. Such a beautiful, interesting, absorbing book, hard to believe that it didn't win every possible medal/prize for Non-Fiction. I know why it didn't--because it unflinchingly tells the truth about the UN and USA, the UK and their actions in Africa. I suspect many of the leaders of those entities would NOT want any of us to read this book. So--please READ THIS BOOK--if you have any interest in Africa WHATSOEVER. The author was a foreign correspondent in the early 1990's in Ethiopia, Truly 5 stars. Such a beautiful, interesting, absorbing book, hard to believe that it didn't win every possible medal/prize for Non-Fiction. I know why it didn't--because it unflinchingly tells the truth about the UN and USA, the UK and their actions in Africa. I suspect many of the leaders of those entities would NOT want any of us to read this book. So--please READ THIS BOOK--if you have any interest in Africa WHATSOEVER. The author was a foreign correspondent in the early 1990's in Ethiopia, Somalia, Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania, Sudan, the Balkans, and probably other countries that I can't recall. Hartley turned 30 in 1995. He was born in Kenya and raised in England and returned to Africa after Oxford, which makes his life fascinating just with those facts alone. The book recounts his travels and experiences during the Ethiopian famine, the Hutu-Tutsi genocide in Rwanda and the conflict in Somalia. Hartley and his friend actually coined the term "Warlords" to describe the militia tribal leaders. I loved that he writes clearly, factually, without anger, regarding the events that led to his severe PTSD. In between Hartley's experiences, there is a separate story regarding his father's friend, Peter Davey and Davey's murder in 1947. Hartley wanted to tell this story because he inherited Davey's diaries, which his father stored for 50 years in "The Zanzibar Chest." However, I did not feel Davey's story was nearly as compelling as Hartley's, and it didn't really belong in this volume. Hartley, despite being a professional newspaperman, had to work hard to put this book together. Parts of it aren't as smooth as he would have liked, no doubt. Parts of this were slow-going for me, until I caught on. Caught on to what, you ask? At around page 101, I started to highlight interesting sentences. Then, at about page 139, I started writing a letter "C" in the margin next to sentences/paragraphs which contained Contrast. I realized Hartley thinks in terms of Contrasts and expresses himself as such. Some of the Contrasts were true Irony, others were simply contrasts. For example: contrasts between poor/rich, what is/what should be, truth/fantasy, story/propaganda, fact/distortion, violent/sweet, love/hate, angry/welcoming, tall/short, beautiful/ugly, beautifully alive/horribly dead, beliefs/the actuality, war/peace, gorilla versus human behavior, shame/accomplishment, passion/calm. Once I realized this, the book (especially the chapters recounting his own first-hand experiences) became AWESOME. Some great quotes in this book: "At least I get to do what they taught me in the foreign service and have drinks with a room full of mass murderers." "Encouraging the militias to form a government was like appointing the Mafia to run Manhattan." "But the challenge was to make audiences appreciate that naked, black, Muslim Africans were worth caring for." "Mogadishu was so dangerous and out-of-this-world that Reid Miller, the veteran AP correspondent used to say, 'I wouldn't even send my first wife there.'" And there are hundreds of other moving/funny/incredible/horrifying sentences in this book-the above are entirely random. READ IT.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Alice Lippart

    Whatever everyone else sees in this book to grant it such a high rating is beyond me. A great story, but it's lacking in good writing, reflection and depth, not to mention an ability to connect (though that part could just be me). Whatever everyone else sees in this book to grant it such a high rating is beyond me. A great story, but it's lacking in good writing, reflection and depth, not to mention an ability to connect (though that part could just be me).

  11. 4 out of 5

    Mike

    Very good. Different and disturbing, but an excellent book.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    I wonder what it meant that I enjoyed being a journalist but spent my time witnessing so much killing and suffering. I told myself that observing extremes gave me a heightened sense of morality, but it might have meant the opposite, that to go on like that proved one was some sort of borderline psychopath (Zanzibar Chest, p.391). Hartley is a product of his upbringing in Africa and England, an Oxford graduate with a Master's from SOAS. He joined Reuters as a foreign correspondent covering primari I wonder what it meant that I enjoyed being a journalist but spent my time witnessing so much killing and suffering. I told myself that observing extremes gave me a heightened sense of morality, but it might have meant the opposite, that to go on like that proved one was some sort of borderline psychopath (Zanzibar Chest, p.391). Hartley is a product of his upbringing in Africa and England, an Oxford graduate with a Master's from SOAS. He joined Reuters as a foreign correspondent covering primarily Africa, where his heart is and where he lives, in his homeland Kenya. This book is an account of both his father's and his own footsteps across these regions, with interspersed, snippets of the history of Peter Davey as drawn from his own diaries. Davey was a British diplomat, friend of his father's, who went native in Yemen and died there whilst in service. Although to many Hartley's account seems confusing, I found his writing drew me in like a man thirsty for water in an oasis after a journey in the desert. Admittedly, his exploits and accounts of his life as a foreign correspondent are the product of a young man in search of risk and adventure induced adrenaline mingled with evenings bathed in alcohol, drugs, sex and laddish behaviours. The dichotomy between his own life and what he witnesses can cause one to feel that he never could be a real African, that this attempt at going native himself was destined from the start to be an oxymoron. But it is his love for these lands, his absolute passion for this continent that save him and that make this work and his accounts of love and war riveting for anyone that loves this continent viscerally. It is in the last section, where he covers the Rwanda genocide in 1994, perhaps entering a new phase in his life, that he really comes of age. Here, after losing many of his colleagues and friends in Somalia and the brutality of Mogadishu, he witnesses human bestiality beyond words. I didn't realise he had accompanied Kagame's RPF Tutsis as they entered Kigali after the 100 days genocide. To this day, he admits he does not have sufficient words to describe what he saw, and his story here becomes photographic, like the accounts of anyone who has experienced trauma to the core. Aidan's work is of a brilliance of writing that few can claim. His book almost comes across as a psychoanalytic journey, with lucidity and dreamlike states mixed in with an attempt at finding a common thread from the past to the present to understand his own manhood, and what this means in the context of his genealogy. I recommend this work to anyone who is interested in Africa, preferably an individual who has good knowledge of the continental wars and history. For this type of reader, Hartley's work provides a grassroots account of what happened to individuals mixed in this sociopolitical quagmire in the eighties and nineties, his visuals and stories providing fundamental anecdotal evidence bridging the gap between the institutionally-fed single truth and multifaceted fragmented reality on the ground.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Suzanne

    While this book wasn’t what I was expecting, I want to declare right at the outset that it was REALLY REALLY GOOD! The author, Aidan Hartley, is a journalist and The Zanzibar Chest is his memoir of his childhood, being born and raised in Tanzania, and also the years of his 20′s and 30′s, when he was war correspondent in Africa. The son of a British military colonial, Aidan’s family had a rich history of living the ex-pat life. Weaving in tales of his father’s life in Africa, Aidan Hartley narrat While this book wasn’t what I was expecting, I want to declare right at the outset that it was REALLY REALLY GOOD! The author, Aidan Hartley, is a journalist and The Zanzibar Chest is his memoir of his childhood, being born and raised in Tanzania, and also the years of his 20′s and 30′s, when he was war correspondent in Africa. The son of a British military colonial, Aidan’s family had a rich history of living the ex-pat life. Weaving in tales of his father’s life in Africa, Aidan Hartley narrates a scene of beauty, love, fear and loss. At night, lions grunted and roared and the hollow volcanic hill rumbled as rhino cantered by … “We were in a paradise,” said my father, “that we can never forget, nor equal.” As the book progresses, the reader is a fly on the wall, observing the life of a young journalist. “I remember how an American dropped his trousers for a group of us at the bar and boasted how he’d lost his left testicle in a Balkans mine blast, which he claimed hadn’t prevented him from seducing a nurse during his recovery in a Budapest hospital.” As Hartley finds himself in the midst of war-torn Somalia, Serbia and Rwanda, his writing becomes darker and eventually he cannot distance himself from the horror. “They say we journalists ignored the story for months. We were there all the time. What’s true is that we didn’t understand at the time the full magnitude of what was happening. I was an ant walking over the rough hide of an elephant. I had no idea of the scale of what I was witnessing.” I highly, highly recommend this superb memoir. 4 1/2 stars.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Paul Colver

    Not too much about Zanzibar but a great read about Africa. On one level the book is about the author. How he is/was as a journalist a violence junkie. and the writing is a purging of his demons. Prompted by discovering the chest - see title - and the writings of a friend of his father. and too about his father and family and his relation to them. He a brit born in Africa with family roots in Empire. this percolates throughout the story. Mogadishu, Serbia, Ethiopia, Rwanda and so forth keep the sto Not too much about Zanzibar but a great read about Africa. On one level the book is about the author. How he is/was as a journalist a violence junkie. and the writing is a purging of his demons. Prompted by discovering the chest - see title - and the writings of a friend of his father. and too about his father and family and his relation to them. He a brit born in Africa with family roots in Empire. this percolates throughout the story. Mogadishu, Serbia, Ethiopia, Rwanda and so forth keep the story going. Have a strong stomach and hopefully little proclivity for nightmares if you choose to read this book. A top of the line well written read.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Brendan

    In theory I should have loved this book, but I really struggled to connect with it. The chapters discussing Hartley's first-hand accounts as a foreign correspondent in Somalia (1991) and Rwanda (1994) were the highlight for me. In theory I should have loved this book, but I really struggled to connect with it. The chapters discussing Hartley's first-hand accounts as a foreign correspondent in Somalia (1991) and Rwanda (1994) were the highlight for me.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Fabienne Bogle

    This book was excruciatingly difficult to read and I thought I might never finish it but am glad that I did. When I purchased it I had no idea what I was actually getting into. War, genocide, and brutality are detailed with graphic description, but so are introspection, honesty, and insight. I am thankful that I did not turn away from learning of the horrors this world holds for many, and the beauty, love, and affection that can be discovered in the midst.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Bert van der Vaart

    This book is on balance worth reading, despite its many flaws. It often seems like one giant effort from a self-obsessed son of an idealized father, wherein the son keeps trying to paint himself as an intrepid son of African adventure, who despite his being paid to report the misery and pointlessness of struggles like Somalia and Rwanda, somehow retains his little boy innocence: ex: "I had missed Operation Desert Storm, the biggest war story so far of our generation. I no longer cared. I had dec This book is on balance worth reading, despite its many flaws. It often seems like one giant effort from a self-obsessed son of an idealized father, wherein the son keeps trying to paint himself as an intrepid son of African adventure, who despite his being paid to report the misery and pointlessness of struggles like Somalia and Rwanda, somehow retains his little boy innocence: ex: "I had missed Operation Desert Storm, the biggest war story so far of our generation. I no longer cared. I had decided that what I was looking for was a war that I could call my own, a story that was mine, a complete experience that would define me as the son of my fathers and involve me as an insider..." [puke]. Consciously (I hope) but without credits citing to various rock and roll lines, eg (referring to a man named Celestine)"I wondered what a man with a name derived from the word 'heavenly' was doing in the mud, blood and beer of my world"--parroting Johnny Cash's famous lines in "Boy Named Sue" (although without attribution), etc So why read the book? Manly bc it does a very good job of showing how even cynical hacks (rejecting photos of starving children because they were "Not. Thin. Enough", making up heart warming stories which were palpably not true and winning prizes for writing what the people in the distant rich world wanted to believe, he nonetheless also shows the development community, UN, and western politicians to be believably cynical, counterproductive and ignorant--perhaps spectacularly so in Somalia. Where the UN officer in charge agrees the actress they bring in to call attention to the famine was a has been, but that "they had thought about bringing in Madonna but she was too sexy for a famine...". where photographers trample and break a leg of a starving child in their rush to take photos of the actress but the reporters are asked by the UN people not to report it, because of its effect on reducing public contributions. How western democracy caused the polarization of Hutus from Tutsis and led to one of the world's worst massacres--although Hartley does at least indicate that the Holocaust, the Armenians in 1915, Stalin and Mao were right up there as well. But despite these crystal clear examples of political incompetence and hypocrisy, Hartley shows he is part of the problem, complaining about the readers who did not find "desperate enough" the stories he tried to pen to make the situation seem desperate . His recounting of Somalia is worth putting up with his self-obsession (I think he wrote the book while still in his 30s). He captures the inanity of US and UN political leadership, quoting Madeline Albright fatuously saying "In Somalia, we are blazing a new trail for the United Nations..." and predating the Emerald City referring to aide and UN people staying behind intense security lines in "MogaDisney", never getting out and staying only for 9 months to get danger pay and launching inevitably less then precision precision strikes. Where in the midst of civilian slaughter and war lord kidnapping and hideous murders, the UN's employees safe in their walled off city wrote "reams of memos to New York, Edicts returned by satellite on how local councils were to be gender-balanced, suggesting topics for discussion at seminars on human rights and timetables for multiparty polls. Even amidst the fighting, the UN lavished money on projects to 'empower' civil society, women's groups and schools. Anything to pretend this was a society with hope". But then he recounts with apparent jocularity how Hartley and his fellow hacks' cheated spectacularly on their expense accounts, covering litres of whiskey, drunken "orgies" with local women, and most dramatic insult or caper among the community of hacks. At the end he cites his dying father--a colonial agronomist--as concluding "We (the British colonialists) should never have come here". But just when you feel tempted to toss the book in one of the few remaining trash cans in the airport nearest you, Hartley comes out with a memorable vignette: "I tried to ignore the anonymous masses for so long, but in the end they have all come back to haunt me: the refugees, the injured, the starving and the dead. And each and every one has a name."

  18. 5 out of 5

    Paul

    This was a fantastic book, though I must admit parts of it are very tough to get through- more on that later. It is also really multiple stories combined into one book. 1. The title refers to a chest his father had with diaries and journals detailing his fathers work during the last 30 some years of British colonial rule in Africa and Yemen. 2. The book details the author's quest to travel to Yemen and learn as much as possible and see the location that make up his fathers friend's journal, and t This was a fantastic book, though I must admit parts of it are very tough to get through- more on that later. It is also really multiple stories combined into one book. 1. The title refers to a chest his father had with diaries and journals detailing his fathers work during the last 30 some years of British colonial rule in Africa and Yemen. 2. The book details the author's quest to travel to Yemen and learn as much as possible and see the location that make up his fathers friend's journal, and to learn how and why he died. 3. The author was a front line reporter who covered what happened in Somalia starting in 1990. 4. The author was front line reporting from the beginning on the genocide that took place in Rwanda. It is # 3 and 4 that make this book a tough read, and the author himself says what he reported and has written for the book do even begin to convey the horrors he witnessed. The majority of Africa went from being ruled by Europe and the people being treated like shit, to being ruled by dictators who the people either elected or who took over via a coup, and treated the people like shit. And when those leaders were toppled a new madman dictator took their place, to loot the country and treat the people like shit. This is why there are certainly no easy answers to fixing Africa, if in fact there is a fix. What I liked about the author's perspective is that it wasn't sermonizing, it wasn't pointing the finger at just one group and saying Them, they are 5he reason the country is a mess. Everyone associated with the countries of Africa are to blame. By the end of the book it is clear the author is suffering severe PTSD, but as this came out 12 years ago that tag wasn't used to label his condition. If you want an introduction to the atrocities committed in Somalia and Rwanda, if you want an introduction to the good as well as the bad that the British contributed to Africa and Yemen, if you want a history lesson and an adventure, or if you want to be exposed to the pure evil the human race is capable of, read The Zanzibar Chest.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Babak Fakhamzadeh

    Hartley has written something of a memoir of himself and his family. Truth be told, his family history is quite interesting, filled with individuals occupying important roles in Britain's colonial history. Hartley himself, who was born and grew up in East Africa, became a journalist and the book is like personal therapy to come to terms with the the death of his father and the violence he was faced with while working in (mostly) African warzones. The book is interesting, but not nearly as good a Hartley has written something of a memoir of himself and his family. Truth be told, his family history is quite interesting, filled with individuals occupying important roles in Britain's colonial history. Hartley himself, who was born and grew up in East Africa, became a journalist and the book is like personal therapy to come to terms with the the death of his father and the violence he was faced with while working in (mostly) African warzones. The book is interesting, but not nearly as good as the quotes and reviews printed on the cover of the book would have you believe. Then again, since the book is clearly a journalist's memoir, that probably is the exact reason why editors and journalists loved the book. They see themselves, or a version of themselves they never were. Hartley's section on Rwanda is shocking in its descriptions, but also describes nothing not said in other works.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Lena VanAusdle

    Oh this book. I in turn loved it and hated it. How can you not be drawn in by the intensity of so many human tragedies? That being said, how can you not be completely turned off by the author and his tone? Whether he intended to come across this way or not, he portrayed himself as being involved in, but somehow above his colonial roots. He is a Brit born in Africa, so he saw himself as somehow more legitimate than other ex-pats, all the while behaving exactly like the ex-pats he believed he was Oh this book. I in turn loved it and hated it. How can you not be drawn in by the intensity of so many human tragedies? That being said, how can you not be completely turned off by the author and his tone? Whether he intended to come across this way or not, he portrayed himself as being involved in, but somehow above his colonial roots. He is a Brit born in Africa, so he saw himself as somehow more legitimate than other ex-pats, all the while behaving exactly like the ex-pats he believed he was better than. So, if you're interested in having a window into the geopolitical workings of Africa in the 1940's as well as 1980's-1990's this is an interesting and riveting tale. Just be prepared to stomach the narcissistic narrative of a spoiled brat who, for how much he traveled, has a rather selfish, narrow view of the world.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Stacie

    Aidan Hartley simultaneously tells his personal story of growing up and working in Africa while detailing the lives of his father and his father's good friend. After reading the journals of the two men -- kept for many years in his father's Zanzibar chest -- he embarks on a search for answers about their lives. Along the way, he examines the draw of Africa to so many British, the two men and his own fascination and love for the continent. The most powerful parts of this story are Hartley's own, a Aidan Hartley simultaneously tells his personal story of growing up and working in Africa while detailing the lives of his father and his father's good friend. After reading the journals of the two men -- kept for many years in his father's Zanzibar chest -- he embarks on a search for answers about their lives. Along the way, he examines the draw of Africa to so many British, the two men and his own fascination and love for the continent. The most powerful parts of this story are Hartley's own, as he details with brutal clarity wars in Somalia and Rwanda, among others. This book will give any reader a new appreciation for the lives some journalists lead and a new respect for their courage, daring and honesty.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Simon K

    Raw - Modern War Torn Africa thru the eyes of a desperately irresponsible, selfish, careless...but passionate, exciting, challenging Reuters journalist

  23. 5 out of 5

    Bo

    really strong stuff - authentic account

  24. 5 out of 5

    Stefani

    I'd be lying if I said reading this book didn't stir up some misguided feelings of wistfulness. Misguided because while I've often fantasized about a career in wartime reporting—what I imagine in my flights of fancy tend to involve the wearing of a multi-pocketed flak jacket while simultaneously dodging heavy artillery and taking notes in a hail of gunfire—the reality is, I'm far too neurotic and high-strung to deal with the prospect of imminent death or disease in my immediate surroundings. The I'd be lying if I said reading this book didn't stir up some misguided feelings of wistfulness. Misguided because while I've often fantasized about a career in wartime reporting—what I imagine in my flights of fancy tend to involve the wearing of a multi-pocketed flak jacket while simultaneously dodging heavy artillery and taking notes in a hail of gunfire—the reality is, I'm far too neurotic and high-strung to deal with the prospect of imminent death or disease in my immediate surroundings. The vicarious thrill I get from reading war correspondent memoirs will just have to do for now. I was pleasantly surprised by how engaging and readable this book was, mostly because I expected it to be written in the dry, impersonal style that many journalists are encouraged to write in to avoid obfuscating the facts. Luckily, Aidan Hartley doesn't care much for the tenants of journalism, and he peppers his stories with an abundance of detail about places that most will never see but through the eyes of a correspondent: Somalia, Rwanda, Burundi, etc...The grim realities of famine in which newspaper editors scrounge for footage of the most emaciated children are contrasted with the beauty of monumental desert sunsets and the preservation of culture many thousands of years old. Though some reviews have lambasted Hartley for being a “whiny expat” I disagree. He acknowledges his family legacy of colonization in Africa and I get the impression that part of his MO in writing the book was to acknowledge and raise awareness of the upheaval that white rule caused on the continent for the majority of the developing world who only pay attention when something like the Rwandan genocide happens. The book is fascinating, horrific, exciting, and deplorable all at once, and one that I won't soon forget.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Lydia Shute

    I really wanted to love this nonfiction, especially with a title like that. But it just felt very scattered to me, too many people introduced and then briefly moved past. Maybe this is my take on it because I felt the amount of information dabbled in was overwhelming. He did a good job of making the reader feel how forgotten many of the tribes and cultures of Africa have been for some long, while being crushed and controlled and manipulated by other world powers. Pulled in all directions and the I really wanted to love this nonfiction, especially with a title like that. But it just felt very scattered to me, too many people introduced and then briefly moved past. Maybe this is my take on it because I felt the amount of information dabbled in was overwhelming. He did a good job of making the reader feel how forgotten many of the tribes and cultures of Africa have been for some long, while being crushed and controlled and manipulated by other world powers. Pulled in all directions and the greed. One of the people introduced was Dan Eldon, a photographer that crossed paths with Aidan in the early ‘90s also documenting the extreme famine of Somalia. There’s actually a movie on Netflix currently, “ the journey is the destination “ that I watched mid book to get another take on this turbulent time in Somalia.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Damian

    I picked this up without knowing anything about the book apart from the positive blurb. The first few chapters were a bit of a chore but when Aidan moved onto his own war reported recollections the book became a lot more interesting. While we're all aware of Somalia, Rwanda and other African conflicts I found Aidan's commentary from inside the war zone rather compelling and enlightening. Sure in a sense he was always floating above the chaos, rather than being a participant, but that remove does I picked this up without knowing anything about the book apart from the positive blurb. The first few chapters were a bit of a chore but when Aidan moved onto his own war reported recollections the book became a lot more interesting. While we're all aware of Somalia, Rwanda and other African conflicts I found Aidan's commentary from inside the war zone rather compelling and enlightening. Sure in a sense he was always floating above the chaos, rather than being a participant, but that remove does allow him to describe the madness somewhat dispassionately. Worth a read if you have an interest in Africa and war reportage in general.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Anita

    This book isn't for people who want a neat, linear story. Stick with it and you'll be richly, painfully rewarded. Having worked in global health and swooped in and out of Africa for 2 years, I recognized many characters, including myself, but felt the immense guilt for that lifestyle. I can't help but wonder how this tale was even published, but its brutal honesty makes it essential reading for anyone seeking that sense of purpose. This book isn't for people who want a neat, linear story. Stick with it and you'll be richly, painfully rewarded. Having worked in global health and swooped in and out of Africa for 2 years, I recognized many characters, including myself, but felt the immense guilt for that lifestyle. I can't help but wonder how this tale was even published, but its brutal honesty makes it essential reading for anyone seeking that sense of purpose.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Mark Baines

    A book that is part biography and part autobiography. A tale of old colonial life in Yemen and East Africa, and the impact on the family, including the ties to the land and its people; for better and for worse as colonial life departs and Africa falls to greed, terror and intolerance. Graphic insight into Somalia/Rwanda and other conflicts as well as first hand account of the waste and ineffective input 'dogooders' of the UN which probably did more harm than good. A book that is part biography and part autobiography. A tale of old colonial life in Yemen and East Africa, and the impact on the family, including the ties to the land and its people; for better and for worse as colonial life departs and Africa falls to greed, terror and intolerance. Graphic insight into Somalia/Rwanda and other conflicts as well as first hand account of the waste and ineffective input 'dogooders' of the UN which probably did more harm than good.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Laurie Graham

    Picked up because I enjoy Aidan Hartley's occasional columns for Spectator magazine, I had no idea of his history as a war correspondent reporting on Africa's many tribal wars in the 1990s. A mesmerising memoir of his experiences and of his own family's African history. I just wished it had included maps. I had to read it with an atlas at my side. Picked up because I enjoy Aidan Hartley's occasional columns for Spectator magazine, I had no idea of his history as a war correspondent reporting on Africa's many tribal wars in the 1990s. A mesmerising memoir of his experiences and of his own family's African history. I just wished it had included maps. I had to read it with an atlas at my side.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Matthias Müller

    This is one of my favourite books of all time. It manages to nail both the fascination of exploring the different places in Africa and the Eye Opening Horror of some of the Events which happend there in the last 30 years. I really could not put this down even for a minute, even when reading about the attrocities of an african civil war.

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