From Publishers Weekly
Although both tragedy and hope are mentioned in the subtitle, this work of reportage on Africa focuses more on the former than the latter. French was first captivated by Africa after college, in 1980, when he joined his parents and siblings in Ivory Coast. Taken by the pride and beauty he found on the continent, he became a journalist there, eventually serving as a bureau chief for the New York Times. His strength as a reporter is evident as he takes the reader across the continent, recounting in vivid detail the genocide in Rwanda and the AIDS and Ebola outbreaks. His prose is evocative without being melodramatic in describing the suffering he saw. The "powerful and eerily rhythmic" wailing of those who had lost loved ones to the Ebola virus "was painful to hear, and clearly bespoke of the recent or imminent deaths of loved ones." French is just as eloquent discussing his ambivalence about covering African crises after criticizing other journalists for their pack mentality in focusing on such crises rather than on giving a more rounded picture of life on the continent. In addition to disease and murder, French focuses his book on Africa's other plague: corrupt tyrants. While his insights into Zaire's Mobutu and Congo's Laurent Kabila are valuable, like many other writers on Africa French excoriates the "treachery and betrayal of Africa by a wealthy and powerful West." But providing some ways to improve life thereâ"to give Africans some hopeâ"is not so easy. As his book shows, French might be exactly the kind of seasoned Africa observer who could help point the way. 8 pages of photos, 1 map.
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For the U.S., Africa is only a source for oil and other resources and a theater of misery, according to senior New York Times
writer French, who reported on Central and West Africa in the 1990s. In contrast to that official detachment is French's own passionate engagement, both with what he sees close-up and with the politics and history. An African American raised in Washington, D.C., he has lived with his family in Africa, and he brings a unique perspective to the news in Liberia, Nigeria, Rwanda, and Congo. He is as critical of the corruption and greed of Africa's modern leaders as he is of the West, but he does blame much of the continent's trouble on colonialism and "faraway mapmakers" who patched countries together. Most damning is his criticism of the Clinton administration's preoccupation with the Bosnian crisis, while it ignored the much bigger Rwandan genocide and its aftermath. French's eyewitness reporting is unforgettable, as in the portrait of a Liberian child-soldier. The "hope" of the subtitle isn't here. Hazel RochmanCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved