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I Didn't Do It for You: How the World Betrayed a Small African Nation Paperback – Illustrated, June 13, 2006
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Scarred by decades of conflict and occupation, the craggy African nation of Eritrea has weathered the world's longest-running guerrilla war. The dogged determination that secured victory against Ethiopia, its giant neighbor, is woven into the national psyche, the product of cynical foreign interventions. Fascist Italy wanted Eritrea as the springboard for a new, racially pure Roman empire; Britain sold off its industry for scrap; the United States needed a base for its state-of-the-art spy station; and the Soviet Union used it as a pawn in a proxy war.
In I Didn't Do It for You, Michela Wrong reveals the breathtaking abuses this tiny nation has suffered and, with a sharp eye for detail and a taste for the incongruous, tells the story of colonialism itself and how international power politics can play havoc with a country's destiny.
“Eloquent and impassioned . . . [A] splendid account of modern Eritrean history . . . Scrupulous and honest.” — New York Times
“Engaging history . . . A vivid story of a nation repeatedly trampled by foreign powers until it won its independence.” — New York Times Book Review
“A gripping political thriller.” — Monica Ali, author of BRICK LANE
“Contemporary history on the grand scale. I was entertained, informed and angered . . . A splendid achievement.” — John le Carré
“Wrong’s...original research is more illuminating, her eye more observant, her writing far more wry and witty.” — The Economist
“Vivid, penetrating, wonderfully detailed. Michela Wrong...has excavated the very heart and soul of the Eritrean people and their country.” — Aminatta Forna, author of THE DEVIL THAT DANCED ON WATER
“Engrossing, vividly written in the style of the best thrillers...It should become the standard work on the region.” — Anthony Sampson, author of MANDELA: The Authorized Biography
“A fascinating and tragic story . . . Wrong’s account [is] gripping.” — Daily Telegraph (London)
“A highly readable, well-researched depiction of the region’s serial exploitation by a parade of foreign predators.” — Washington Post Book World
“With rich prose and the passion she brings to the subject of [Eritrea’s] independence... Wrong provides a very readable journalistic.” — Los Angeles Times
“An engaging read... Devastating detail... This is probably the best book that could be written about Eritrea.” — Nation
“If you want to understand the world...I DIDN’T DO IT FOR YOU provides the best starting point.” — The Progressive
About the Author
Michela Wrong has worked as a foreign correspondent for Reuters, the BBC, and the Financial Times. She has written about Africa for Slate.com and is a frequent commentator on African affairs in the media. Her first book, In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz, won the James Stern Silver Pen Award for Nonfiction. She lives in London.
- Publisher : Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (June 13, 2006)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 480 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0060780932
- ISBN-13 : 978-0060780937
- Item Weight : 14.7 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.31 x 1.08 x 8 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #438,042 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
About the author
Reviewed in the United States on November 11, 2011
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The book's title comes from a story, apocryphal one hopes, of a British captain leading his war-weary men into the capital city of Asmara after the battle of Keren, which, although little-known, was among the toughest and most brutal battles of World War II. He was greeted by an old Eritrean woman, enthusiastically ululating in celebration of her country's liberation from Italian Fascist rule. The captain interrupted her high-pitched shrilling with a savage "I didn't do it for you, n****r."
That too is a theme of Wrong's book: Nothing, absolutely nothing, that the world's powers -- from Italy, to Great Britain, to the United States, to Russia, to Israel -- have done in Eritrea since 1880 has been for the Eritreans. Instead, Eritrea has been a venue for colonialism, pillaging, and the exercise of Cold War and Middle East realpolitik, and a pimple on the rump of Ethiopia.
Essentially, I DIDN'T DO IT FOR YOU is a history of Eritrea, and because Eritrea has been so closely engaged with its neighbor Ethiopia, also a history of Ethiopia. Ethiopia believes that Eritrea should be part of it, which, of course, would give it access to the Red Sea. By and large, Wrong rebuts Ethiopia's arguments. Yet from 1950 to 1990 Ethiopia exercised varying degrees of control over Eritrea, and from 1962 to 1992 Eritrea fought a bitter, heroic, and ultimately successful War of Independence.
That War of Independence -- as well as its aftermath, first tantalizingly promising but now sadly depressing (Eritrea now is essentially a one-party country presided over by Isaias Afwerki, a dictator for all intents and purposes) -- is the central episode of the book. The major secondary ones consist of Eritrea being buffeted about by the Italians, then the British, and later the Americans. In yet another instance I learn how my country's post-World War II foreign policy was shameful and misguided.
Admirable in many ways, I DIDN'T DO IT FOR YOU could have been better. It is too hasty and unnecessarily confusing. Seemingly containing everything that Wrong ever reported or researched in a decade of covering Eritrea, the book is too long for the general reader. Moreover, while briskly written, it is riddled with threadbare clichés. (No book should contain more than one "turning a blind eye"; this one contains four or five, as well as a couple instances of "falling on deaf ears".)
P.S.: I bought my copy of the book sight unseen from an on-line book dealer. It is boldly signed in the front by Stanley March 3. He apparently followed a practice I too follow whenever possible, as pasted inside the rear cover is a copy of the "New York Times" review of the book. Ah, the caprices of the second-hand book market.
I give the book 5 stars. It's not 100% perfect, but the information within it is first rate. Wrong effectively sets the context for all the parties involved from their own perspectives. The reader understands throughout what each player is thinking and how these actions impact the Eritrean psyche.
My nit-picky complaint is I wish Wrong would have placed more narrative emphasis on the Eritrean side of things. Eritrean narrative appears on occasion, particularly with the pharmeceutical director and the gourmet chef from the trenches. It is the exception rather than the rule. She discusses in depth Eritrea's first colonial administrator, a WWII battle, an American base, Ethiopian history, the Soviet Union and the roles each respective country played in shaping Eritrea. Anecdotes from the Eritrean side, however, are compartively limited.
Also, the end of the book, the section which discusses the latest war and Eritrea's current political climate, felt hurried.
Overall, this is an excellent background read for anyone hoping to learn more about Eritrea and its wars. It has a few very minor shortcomings, but the book completely achieves its goal of introducing the reader to Eritrean history.
A few complaints on style though. Despite Wrong being an experienced journalist, her sentence construction is tortuous and every couple of pages there would be a sentence that simply did not make sense on first reading. Her use of 'Moslem' rather than 'Muslim' annoyed me, especially in a book published in 2005. Her use of 'Israelis' for Ancient Hebrews is anachronistic. And her confusion of Live Aid (the event) and Band Aid (the band) is unforgivable
This was a pretty good book. It was a tad dry in spots, but the stories from the Eritrea people really helped pull the story along. I was able to develop a good picture of this nation and what it has exhaustively had to deal with in the 20th century.
I am glad I read it. It was a good find for a county I knew nothing about.
Top reviews from other countries
Though the book is written in the context of Eritrea many countries can easily relate to it and touches the hearts of many societies. Through out the time line you can see Eritrea had been used, abused, side-lined, ignored and recipient of a silent treatment for too long hoping it will go unnoticed. What a befitting title too. Nothing that happens about Eritrea inside or outside seems to be not for Eritrea. There is always another benefactor or motive. The British soldier who came up with the phrase said it all.
Many are quick and willing to form and express opinions about Eritrea and similar matters. What sets this book apart is the author preferred to spend time and energy to know first. From the content and recitals, it is visible this book has taken years worth of research and consultation rather than relying on hear says and “lazy journalism.” I also commend the author for her courage for telling it like it is which is not always easy. This shows the author is not in the pockets of specific interest group or sponsors which some time can influence writer’s intellectual judgements.
I feel the author have done her fair share of giving voice to those ignored, exposed the dangers associated with power in hands of ignorant and nepotism at a grand scale. For me personally the book is extremely educational. There is a lesson too; things can go though, matters can gang up against you, you could be knocked off, the odds my look weak….. remain focused and stay on your path.
I highly recommend this book for any one who wants an understanding of Eritrea and the untold side of world politics.
I can’t thank the author enough.
This book shows us that the major powers are only interested in themselves and what they can gain from others. This is something we should all remember.
This book educated me , angered me and made want to know more about Eritrea . At the same time it raises questions about all the other stories we see reported in the news papers about far away lands.
This is history at it's best easily digested with a host of unforgettable historical figures and full of minor details which flesh out the story and make you want to say 'did you know this'