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How de Body? One Man's Terrifying Journey Through an African War Paperback – August 6, 2002

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books; First Edition edition (August 6, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312282192
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312282196
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 1.1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,397,326 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The title of this harrowing journey through war-torn Sierra Leone means how are you? in pidgin English; as photojournalist Voeten shows in his dramatic but incomplete work of war reportage, Sierra Leone isn't doing well and neither is he, after a 1998 trip there. On assignment to photograph child soldiers, Voeten finds himself in the midst of a war between a military junta and West African peacekeeping troops. After nearly being killed by a gun-toting teenager, he goes into hiding for two weeks: I feel like a fox running from hounds and curse the soldiers who won't give me a moment's peace. His disappearance makes him something of a cause celebre several of his colleagues are planning to mount a search and rescue but he's eventually able to leave the country. Yet that's just the beginning of Voeten's involvement with the impoverished African nation. Despite suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, he returns to Sierra Leone, and it is in recounting these times that the book weakens. Voeten doesn't delve beneath the surface of his interest in Sierra Leone; he fails to give readers even a basic history of the country or to reflect on what makes journalists willing to risk their lives to report from there. He also neglects to sufficiently describe his PTSD or how his multiple returns to Sierra Leone affect it. By not answering these questions, Voeten ends up with merely a frightening travelogue of a depressing country and one inelegantly written at that. The photos, which may be the book's highlight, were not seen by PW.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Voeten, an acclaimed photojournalist, writes about the ferocity of the eight-year civil war in Sierra Leone, a former British colony in West Africa. Once referred to as "The White Man's Grave," it is a country endowed with very hospitable people and mineral wealth gold, silver, and, in particular, diamonds, which "literally lie there waiting to be picked up." The abundance of diamonds has sown greed among the major ethnic groups and has also attracted an international consortium of criminals, arms dealers, mercenaries, and drug barons. Control of these diamonds is the cause and fuel of the war. Voeten was sent to cover the use of child soldiers by the rebels and in the process got caught in the middle of the warring factions and almost lost his life. He has covered many civil wars in other places, and references and comparisons are constantly made to other war-torn countries. Thousands of children were kidnapped by the rebels and conscripted as soldiers, bearers, and cannon fodder. Special amputation squads hacked off arms, hands, or legs to sow terror and avenge the rebels' defeat. Such mass amputations were compared to those done by Belgian colonizers in the former Congo. Throughout How De Body? ("How are you?" in pidgin English), Voeten, relief workers, missionaries, and human rights activists ruminate on the extent of savagery during the eight-year period. Voeten is also fascinated by the courage, strength, and hospitality of Sierra Leoneans. The author, however, exposes his own biases by using words such as natives, thick lips, bastards, fat, and the like in the first chapter. Overall, this is a very interesting but depressing narrative of the atrocities of a civil war characterized by greed and wealth. Recommended for public libraries and those interested in African politics and civil wars in general. Edward G. McCormack, Cox Lib. & Media Ctr., Univ. of Southern Mississippi-Gulf Coast, Long Beach
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

More About the Author


Teun Voeten
was originally born in the Netherlands. After a year as an exchange student in New Jersey, he traveled for a while all over Europe. Later, he started to study cultural anthropology and philosophy at Leiden University, Netherlands.

While studying, he grew interested in photography and learned the profession by working as a photo-assistant, both in Holland and in New York, where he studied at the School of Visual Arts.

In New York, he also picked up his first assignments for magazines such as Details and High Times combining writing and photojournalism on subjects such as the Provo movement in the Netherlands, the elections in Nicaragua and the race riots in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn.

After carrying out extensive fieldwork in a gold digger community in the Ecuadorian Andes, Voeten finished his study in 1991 and moved to Brussels, Belgium. Over the years to follow, Voeten covered the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia, Haiti and Rwanda for Dutch, Belgian, German and American publications.

In 1994, he took a break from war reporting and picked up his anthropological roots by studying a homeless community that was living in an old rail road tunnel in Manhattan. For five months, Voeten lived, worked and slept among the tunnel people. This resulted in his first book 'Tunnelmensen' published in 1996 at the Amsterdam based publishing house Atlas. It was broadly praised by the press, 'a supreme example of participant observation,' one Dutch monthly wrote. 'Tunnel People' appeared September 2010 in a translated and updated version at PM Press, Oakland.

Between 1996 and 1998, Voeten developed a taste for the so called "forgotten wars" and went out to document the ongoing crises in Colombia, Afghanistan, Sudan and Sierra Leone. Work from these trips was published in his photo book 'A Ticket To', published in 1999 by Veenman Publishers.

In 1998, Voeten went to Sierra Leone to work on a project on child soldiers. His first trip ended nearly in disaster went he was hunted down by rebels intent on killing him, but eventually resulted in the headline "How de Body? Hope and Horror in Sierra Leone" which was published by Meulenhoff, in 2000. The English translation appeared at St. Martins Press, New York, 2002.

In 2000 and the years to come, Voeten was working on the human rights violations in Colombia, the so called conflict diamonds in Angola, Congo and Sierra Leone, the ongoing war in Afghanistan and women trafficking and forced prostitution on the Balkan.

In 2003, he went to Baghdad to follow up on the American led invasion/liberation, to return there 6 months later as an embed with the US forces. Over the last few years, Voeten also followed the American Coalition forces in Afghanistan. More recently, he focused his camera on the Gaza strip, the DR Congo and North Korea (design and architecture) as well as Chad (Darfur crisis), Iran (daily life) , China (pollution) and more recently, in 2012, the Arab Spring in Egypt en Libya.

Voeten has been published in Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, NY Times Magazine, National Geographic Magazine, Newsweek, Time, Granta, Village Voice, Vrij Nederland, NRC, De Standaard, Frankfurter Allgemeine, between others. His photos are used worldwide by relief organizations such as the International Red Cross, Doctors without Borders, UNICEF, UNHCR, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. Having won several awards for his photography and writing, Voeten is a regular guest on talk shows from all major networks in the Netherlands and Belgium, and is a sought after lecturer at universities and other cultural institutions in Europe and the USA. Besides his journalistic work, Voeten also started a foundation that is raising funds for a high school in Sierra Leone.

In 2009, Voeten started to focus on the drug violence in Mexico and made numerous trips to the flashpoints of the drug war, Ciudad Juarez, Culiacan and Michoacan. He also turned into new roads, making a video documentary about growing up in the most dangerous city in the world (Ciudad Juarez), as well as organizing a war photography exhibition, "10 years after 9/11" as a guest curator for GEMAK, a dependance from the Den Haag Fotomuseum in the Netherlands.

His photos from the drug violence can be seen in the photobook 'Narco Estado. Drug Violence in Mexico' which was published by Lannoo late 2012. Intrigued by the extreme violence in Mexico and trying to put 22 years of experience into academic perspective, Voeten will start a PhD in anthropology on the Mexican drug violence subject. He has one son and divides his time between Voeten New York and Brussels.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Marg on July 5, 2006
Format: Paperback
This may not be a legitimate review because I did not finish the book-I did not even get close. I got to about page 20 before I just couldn't stand it anymore. After researching the Sierra Leonean civil war extensively (specifically the child soldiers, which Voeten, in Chapter 2, states is his reason for going to Sierra Leone) for two years and writing a dissertation on it, I am always interested in what others write about the topic. I have three major objections to How De Body. First, I doubt the extent of Voeten's background research. For example, his opinion of Foday Sankoh (the rebel leader) is crude and too simple for Sankoh's complex character and even his national reputation. (p 7). Certainly, Voeten learned invaluable information regarding the civil war, the Sierra Leonean people, etc. while in Sierra Leone. Yet, grassroots interactions, particularly limited ones, are subject to bias and therefore must be coupled with research and analysis (whether it makes it to the published draft or simply used as a foundation for the writer) to equate to an intelligent assessment of something as complex as a civil war; just as background research requires grassroots interactions for accuracy as well. (I would have assumed Voeten, a professional journalist, would know that, but I guess not.) Second, Voeten writes with a prestigious, Eurocentric (and unpolished, unintelligent) voice. While entering Sierra Leone, he is surprised that the immigration officials did not steal money from him and even acted gentlemanly (p 10-11). He decides that their behavior is certainly evidence that the English once ruled the region (p 11). I do not feel the need to explain my repulsions to that statement. Third, Voeten makes generalizations that are by no means universal.Read more ›
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Mike on February 9, 2003
Format: Paperback
While this book offers up a narrowly focused tale on Sierra Leone's civil war, Tuen Voeten's strained efforts to sound hip in the telling make this book one worth reading only if you're looking to see events from a different angle. Voeten's flagrent use of swear words (I wouldn't care about them if they added to the story) throughout the book seem to be an effort to sound like a cowboy on assingment instead of a professional journalist. Overall Voeten provides an easy to follow narrative about his experiences, but essentially no background on the events in Sierra Leone during the period of his times there.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Pieter Franken on August 24, 2005
Format: Paperback
This book is definitely to be recommended for people interested in modern Africa and journalism. It tells the gripping tale of a Dutch (or Belgian?) journalist caught in the middle of the civil war in Sierra Leone. Don't hesitate just buy and enjoy!!

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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Pauline George on May 20, 2003
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
For people from Sierra Leone, this book verifies the stories and rumors that they have been hearing over the years. The excellent pictures speak for themselves. References are there so that the reader may continue to read more about the devastation of a people from a peaceful country. For those who don't know about the tragedy going on in West Africa, this book tells all.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Kevin M Quigg VINE VOICE on May 18, 2008
Format: Paperback
This is my fourth book about the terrors of the RUF. These were ugly people trying to overthrow the legitimate government of Sierra Leone. The RUF killed white people, anybody that disagreed with them, and kidnapped young people to place in their army. They were supported by the likes of Charles Taylor of Liberia and Colonel Quaddafi of Libya. No wonder these were killers who didn;t care a dang about the people they were supposedly liberating. The RUF also engaged in a terrorist act of chopping people's hands/legs/nose/ears off, to show they meant business.

The author Voeten spent a terrible two to three weeks of hiding from these killers in 1998. A kind educated rural family protected him rather than turn him over to the RUF. The author recounts his stories of those that lost their lives in the Civil War. There are no bright shining heroes in this book. The legitimate government is shown as corrupt. The ECOMEG forces are shown as brutal and corrupt also. The NGOs serving Sierre Leone are also shown as having their own agenda. The journalists flock to these failed states to make a buck off the conflict.

This is a interesting account of the Sierra Leone Civil War. It is one man's perspective, but it details a history of the conflict.
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