From Publishers Weekly
Toward the end of this mesmerizing chronicle, Hartley writes simply of Rwanda, "Like everything in Africa, the truth [is] somewhere in between." Hartley appreciates this complexity, mining the accounts that constitute his book not for the palliative but for the redemptive. Born in 1965 in Kenya into a long lineage of African colonialists, Hartley feels, like his father whose story he also traces, a magnetic, almost inexplicable pull to remain in Africa. Hartley's father imports modernity to the continent (promoting irrigation systems and sophisticated husbandry); later, Hartley himself "exports" Africa as a foreign correspondent for Reuters. Both men struggle to find moral imperatives as "foreigners" native to a continent still emerging from colonialism. Hartley's father concludes, "We should never have come here," and Hartley himself appears understandably beleaguered by the horrors he witnesses (and which he describes impressively) covering Ethiopia, Somalia and Rwanda. Emotionally shattered by the genocide in the latter ("Rwanda sits like a tumour leaking poison into the back of my head"), the journalist returns to his family home in Kenya, where he happens upon the diary of Peter Davey, his father's best friend, in the chest of the book's title. Hartley travels to the Arabian Peninsula to trace Davey's mysterious death in 1947, a story he weaves into the rest of his narrative. The account of Davey, while the least engaging portion of the book, provides Hartley with a perspective for grappling with the legacy that haunts him. This book is a sweeping, poetic homage to Africa, a continent made vivid by Hartley's capable, stunning prose.
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Hartley, a journalist and British subject with four generations of colonial administrators in the family, offers a startlingly refreshing perspective on the political, social, and cultural impact of British colonialism in Africa and Arabia. The son of a foreign service officer, Hartley was raised in East Africa and educated in British prep schools. As a journalist, he traveled the war circuit through Rwanda, Ethiopia, Somalia, Bosnia, and other hot spots. Drawing on his personal experience of colonial legacy--his family being more comfortable fighting and dying in the colonies than living in Mother England--and his contemporary journalistic perspectives on war and conflict, Hartley details a fascinating odyssey that reflects on the past, present, and future of colonialism. He criticizes the policies of the UN and the U.S. in many of the world's trouble spots, putting a contemporary face on historic colonialism with an accuracy and veracity seldom seen in Western critiques. Vernon FordCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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