From Publishers Weekly
In 1996 the brutal civil war in Rwanda spilled into neighboring Congo, triggering a conflict that has seethed for 12 long years, claimed more lives than any since WWII and received little acknowledgment or aid from the international community. AP correspondent Mealer spent three years in this shattered land, and his book is a perceptive, empathetic, stomach-twisting presentation of the human condition during chaos. Mealer depicts war and peace as the mighty arms of a hurricane; war hurtles thousands of terrified people into the bush; intermittent peace lures the lost ones home. Individuals and institutions, indigenous and Western alike, are overwhelmed by the confluence of political collapse, economic disintegration, international indifference and a generalized military ineffectiveness that prevents resolution of the conflict on any terms. The vivid vignettes of combat and its aftermath portend a forever war, and the author highlights the impotence of grassroots solutions that render any deliverance ephemeral at best. Mealer's book is a quiet paean to the courage he has witnessed, and its final salute to the many proud people of Congo is as much eulogy as affirmation. (May)
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With vivid prose and compelling emotion, Mealer chronicles the four years he spent covering the fighting and genocide in Congo. In 1996, when fighting in Rwanda spilled into Congo, Mealer came to the troubled nation as a freelance writer with little knowledge of ethnic loyalties, looking for a translator to help him navigate the complexities of conflict. He went on to become Associated Press staff correspondent and recalls the inanity of the fighting, with rebels used as proxies to fight wars that had more to do with looting natural resources than settling ethnic disputes. Mealer offers historic background and vivid descriptions of crumbling postcolonial towns, “cowboy journalists,” crowded marketplaces, and blue-and-white Potemkin villages of UN peacekeepers. He recalls the feared Cobra commander of boy soldiers who held sway by the belief in magic, and the soldiers, dressed in wigs and prom gowns, committing unbelievable atrocities. He also reports his own “creeping emotional atrophy” as he is repulsed and then spellbound by the violence and by the courageous people who struggled to make sense of the fighting. --Vanessa Bush