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Another Day of Life Paperback – April 17, 2001
"Rebound" by Kwame Alexander
Don't miss best-selling author Kwame Alexander's "Rebound," a new companion novel to his Newbery Award-winner, "The Crossover," illustrated with striking graphic novel panels. Learn more
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Angola is rarely in the news (or of interest in the West, particularly since the end of the Cold War). It was mis-ruled by Portugal for three and a half centuries, and its principal export was slaves. This trade was so lucrative and prolific that the country is still under populated. After the downfall of the Salazar dictatorship in 1974, Portugal's new democratic leadership quickly agreed to grant the colonies their independence, which included Angola, where a guerilla war of liberation was being waged for numerous years. There were three principal liberation groups, the MPLA which was backed by the Soviet Union and Cuba, the FNLA, backed by the Western powers and Zaire, and the UNITA, backed by the Western powers and South Africa. The front was "everywhere" literally, whenever one band of these groups might collide.
Kapuscinski's first chapter describes Luanda during the final days, and the exodus of the Portuguese. (Most went to Brazil.) Among the many useful insights, the author mentions the poverty of the whites, unique among European colonies. There were white children begging in the streets, and his hotel maid was Portuguese. The author went to the "front," and in so doing took at least as many chances as Filkens, the NYT correspondent who wrote "The Forever War." Kapuscinski memorably describes approaching checkpoints, manned (or more accurately, "kidded") by heavily armed boys. One never knew to which side was their allegiances, and the wrong greeting could literally mean death. Later he took the first re-supply convoy (that got through!) from Benguela to Pereira dEca, near the border with Namibia. Angola was a place where the proxy wars of the Cold War were waged, and Kapuscinski reports on the Cuban involvement, and broke the story of the South African invasion.
There is an excellent appendix chapter, entitled "ABC", which covers most of the salient facts about Angola, the Portuguese mis-rule, and the war of independence. In the end the author admits an exhaustion with the living conditions and the constant dangers, and telexes home for permission to return, which was granted. In the process, he made a significant incorrect assessment: "It is more or less clear what will happen, which is that the Angolans will win,..." When he said it would "take a while" I suspect that he underestimated the extent and length of the fighting between the forces of Holden Roberto and Savimbi, which would last through 2002. Today Angola is still notorious for the number of land mines that plague the country.
Overall, the book is "another day of life", of Kapuscinski, who has written an excellent account, almost certainly the best we will ever have, of the last days of Portuguese rule in Angola.
I like Kapuscinski a lot--have read 4 or 5 of his books now. But here it seems the publisher is banking on his reputation and cashing in on anything they can find with his name on it. This book starts to give a finely-written account of the RK's experiences as a correspondent at the outbreak of the Angolan civil war. The story ends arbitrarily as invading armies are poised for a pivotal battle early in the war--and the author runs out of money and asks his employers to bring him home. Next comes a brief Wikipedia-like postscript describing the history and geography of Angola and a quick timeline of the rest--actually most--of the war.
Read Shadow of the Sun if you want to see what this author can do, but this book is a charitable contribution to a deceptive publisher.