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In the Land of Magic Soldiers: A Story of White and Black in West Africa Paperback – September 9, 2004


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; First Edition edition (September 9, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 031242292X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312422929
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.5 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,581,559 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this compilation of stories from the civil war-ravaged West African country of Sierra Leone, Bergner (God of the Rodeo) demonstrates a deft dramatic touch. He all too vividly recreates the violent rebel advance on the capital, Freetown, as seen through the eyes of Lamin Jusu Jarka, whose hands were chopped off against the root of a mango tree. It is hard to believe, after reading about the "twenty seconds of localized apocalypse" that a South African mercenary helicopter pilot unleashed on rebel trucks, that Bergner was not himself hovering above the scene. The tragedy is precisely described, but Bergner struggles to discover the motivations of his subjects. Why the Kortenhovens, a white missionary family from Michigan, stay in Sierra Leone for two decades and why Michael Josiah, a government soldier and able student of Western medicine, still believes in healing of the local juju men, are questions that, after intense speculation, remain enigmas. Bergner's biggest struggle, though, is with himself. He often seems to be searching the war-torn country for evidence of his own personal responsibility. When talking to natives who wished for British recolonization, he "all but appealed for racial resentment or historical embitterment." With so many exotic and compelling stories in Sierra Leone to be told, the reader is left wondering why the author has spent so much time telling his own. Despite his thorough research and narrative flair, Bergner falls into the journalistic travelogue's trap-his commentary tells the reader more about the journalist than about the place visited.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From The New Yorker

The black and the white of Bergner's title are, on the one hand, the victims of the seemingly endless civil war in Sierra Leone and, on the other, the missionaries, aid workers, and British soldiers who arrive to restore hope. Bergner follows such bleak narratives as that of Lamin, a husband and father whose hands were chopped off by the rebels, and Komba, a child soldier who calmly describes eating a victim's heart. While an eloquent witness, Bergner has little to offer in the way of sophisticated political explanation. He does, however, have a journalist's eye for the telling moment; in one scene, amputees, coming to the polls to vote, pose happily for the cameras, while a member of the CNN crew says casually that the segment probably won't air in America.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By The Sanity Inspector on February 2, 2004
Format: Hardcover
What a heartbreaking book this is. Sierra Leone at the time of this writing was painfully creeping out of a collapsed state, a nightmare world of omni-hostile gangs, rogue militias, soul-wringing atrocities: the whole awful image of an imploded African society. As one interviewee says, the culture had been drawn down to zero. What was the cause? What could the solution be?
Author Bergner could easily have perpetrated a standard piece of parachute journalism on this wretched backwater sorespot, but he didn't. He spent some quantity time here, and followed developments. He writes with journalistic vividness which only sometimes strains for an elegaic tone. Most of the time his material supplies all the drama necessary.
We meet a missionary family, fired up with a purposeful vision for social justice. We meet them again some time later, after all their good works have been reduced by the civil war and general lawlessness to ashes, and with their last project, a school, threatened with abandonment. It's a heart-rending example of how so much of the West's very best altruistic efforts in Africa have been dashed to spray in the end.
We also meet victims of the guerillas' amputation squads. One, a man named Lamin, somehow kept his equanimity, while a compatriot who suffered the same horrible fate lapsed into catatonia. Lamin's impressions of New York while there to be fitted for prosthetic hands are especially interesting.
A detachment of British Marines, reassuringly determined and competent in comparison the Keystone Kops-like UN troops who had been held hostage by rebels, set to work restoring order in the capital and training the remnants of the national army. But is this rescue or re-colonialization?
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13 of 17 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 26, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I applaud Bergner for writing about things as they actually were in Sierra Leone not so long ago (and currently ARE in surrounding countries), and not how those with some other agenda would have the reader believe that they are. An earlier reviewer encouraged would-be purchasers of the book to do a Google search on Sierra Leone instead of making this purchase. (Not a bad idea. At least the first part)..... I would also encourage would-be purchasers to first do a Google search--try "muti murders" for starters-- and only then buy the book, steeled for the read ahead and cognizant that the world Bergner so skillfully evokes is neither fabrication nor exaggeration. I give the book FIVE STARS, and recommend it to anyone unafraid to explore some hard truths about "modern" Africa.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Kevin M Quigg VINE VOICE on January 28, 2008
Format: Paperback
This book read well. I like the individual stories interspersed with the history of this troubled country. The stories of the Rhodesian mercenary, white American missionaries, Sierra Leonean amputee, and the medical student certainly were interesting. Whether I want to believe in a guerrilla soldier getting shot in the stomach or a person eating razor blades may be a stretch of the imagination.

The author recreates the terror and hatred of the Civil War. As he reminds us, much of sub Sahara Africa is in a downhill spiral, and the results in human terms is civil war, terror, tribalism, kleptocracy, and an early death to millions of Africans. Medically, there is little treatment for Africans of the many diseases rampant on the continent.

I liked this easy to read book. One reviewer raised the possiblity of this being fiction, but after reading similar stories of the Sierra Leone Civil War, I tend to doubt that accusation. A good, solid read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By blblack on September 24, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I read this book on the recommendation of a friend who knows how much I care about Africa, having lived there (in three different countries) for a total of seven years and written about it myself. Daniel Bergner's IN THE LAND OF MAGIC SOLDIERS could not be more different from my book HOW TO COOK A CROCODILE, because mine is about working with women -- the backbone of Africa -- in a peaceful country (Gabon). Nevertheless, I am deeply grateful to Bergner for his honest and insightful account of war-ravaged Sierra Leone. Africa is a huge and hugely complex puzzle, which the world has largely written off. Bergner's narrative of his two-year quest to learn the "truths" about Sierra Leone provides an important piece to that puzzle. His writing is brilliant, his willingness to see all points of view is heartening, and his candor is riveting.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The author takes the reader to another planet with this story of civil war in Sierra Leone. Each chapter seems to catch you unaware. Although one might expect to hear horror stories, each new retelling, as submitted by the actual victim or the person who committed the atrocities, brings the reader to a point of disbelief. Now I know what the term "gut-wrenching" actually means. In turns I was gasping or weeping or shaking my head as if in denial. This is the 21st Century on Planet Earth, but we are all living in absolute luxury compared to life in Sierra Leone. The author has done us a great service by writing about this country.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I was there and everything Dan writes is true. Reality of war is horrible and people need to see that it is not a video game. Real people are suffering and dying for nothing.
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