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The Zanzibar Chest Paperback – August 3, 2004

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Editorial Reviews

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.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

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 Ford
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Books (August 3, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594480117
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594480119
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 1 x 7.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (54 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #410,377 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

106 of 107 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 7, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I picked up this book based on its cover artwork and the title, which sounded romantic and intriguing. I was not at all prepared for the author's harrowing accounts of his years in East Africa as a stringer for Reuters, or for the lingering effect this book has had on me. While he uses bits of his family history and the interesting story of one of his father's best friends as the glue to hold his tale together, The Zanzibar Chest is essentially a memoir of the author's own experiences as a journalist covering the century's most forgotten wars and hot spots: Rwanda, Burundi, Congo, Somalia, Sudan, Ethiopia. While other correspondents covered the glamorous European war - the Balkans - Hartley and his band of fellow cowboys lurched from country to country, hitching rides on UN cargo jets, on convoys of armed guerrillas, or travelling hundreds of miles by foot in the company of whichever militia would take them along - usually at their own expense. The descriptions of war, and in particular the unique hopelessness of African civil wars (ignored by the rest of the world), are written in flawless prose - evocative, truthful, but with a journalist's precision. The book becomes much more personal, however, as Hartley describes the deaths of his Reuters colleagues - several of whom died in a most horrific incident in Somalia. His retelling of the story of the four journalists stoned to death by an angry mob in Mogadishu will send chills down any reader's spine: it is this chapter that eventually brings the book into focus and reveals its purpose. (And it will illuminate and inform readers of Black Hawk Down.Read more ›
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38 of 39 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer VINE VOICE on September 30, 2003
Format: Hardcover
"The Zanzibar Chest" by Aidan Hartley is a beautifully written memoir of one man's Africa; from the depths of human depravity to the joy of a life lived simply and well. As the child of a British colonial officer, Hartley witnessed firsthand the remarkable changes that Africa has undergone in the latter half of the twentieth century. During his youth his ideal Africa is formed by his father's vision of the continent as a pastoral paradise, and it is through his father that his abiding love of Africa is established. However, as a reporter for Reuters, he has a front row seat to the periodic paroxysms of violence and disease that plague the continent. This dichotomy comes to manifest itself in Hartley himself, as he becomes an adrenaline junkie who, even as he craves the comfort of his native Kenya, is drawn to the brutality of Somalia and Rwanda.
In addition to being autobiographical, Hartley attempts to weave in the tale of his father's long deceased best friend, Peter Davey, into his narrative. While interesting in and of itself, this diversion never succeeds in tying in to the main body of the work. Hartley struggles valiantly to draw a comparison between himself and Davey, but the links are tenuous at best. In the end, the reader is left with the indication that if Hartley had been born fifty years earlier, he would have become a man like Davey, but this is a conclusion that is hardly supported by what is revealed about both men. Nonetheless, as I alluded to above, Davey's tale is an intriguing one, and while it is oddly disconnected from the rest of the book, it is still an interesting tale.
That said, where the book really shines is in Hartley's descriptions of his life as a journalist.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By JT on September 17, 2003
Format: Hardcover
This book is a vivid account of a young man's coming of age in Africa, a very different Africa than his forebears had inhabited for the previous 150 years. His story is woven with a narrative about his father and a close friend of the family who are admirable and fascinating in ways that brought 'Seven Pillars of Wisdom' and 'Out of Africa' to mind.
In contradistinction is the life of Mr. Hartley, who begins his career as a Reuters stringer quite well educated but professionally clueless. He gradually hones his craft during long, hot, unhygenic, drug-fueled months through close friendships with more seasoned and cynical professionals. Eventually he himself becomes a seasoned and cynical professional and acts as mentor to newcomers.
Together, he and his friends bear witness to several famines, the civil war in Rwanda, as well as the battle of Mogidishu. It is the butchering in Rwanda that finally overfills his capacity for horror. He eventually retires to write this memoir.
Though he possesses the neutral eye of a journalist, Mr. Hartley does occasionally talk about the way the the events affect him and criticizes western goverments' attempts to help.
The structure of this book was the most interesting part of the book to me. I enjoyed the contrast between his progress through the 1990s horror show with his pursuit of long dead characters of another generation.
I bought this book because I enjoyed the author's interview on Fresh Air with Terry Gross. Because of that interview, I was already familiar with the story and some of the most terrifying events, particulary in Rwanda.
I was, therefore, most shocked by his incredulous reaction to the inhumanity he witnessed in a brief assignment in Bosnia. In a way that is puzzling to me, Mr.
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