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Emergency Sex: And Other Desperate Measures Paperback – October 25, 2006

3.9 out of 5 stars 79 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Ah, to be young, Western and ambitious in a war zone. It's the early 1990s, and Cain and Postlewait are two American U.N. employees sent to Cambodia to help the country rebuild itself after two decades of war and genocide. Thomson is a New Zealandâ€"trained doctor who has already been there for a short while, patching up limbs shattered by land mines and looking for a corner of the world to save. The three meet during the U.N.'s efforts to install democracy in one of the unlikeliest places. Idealism, financial need, thirst for adventure and the desire to be a part of history bring them there, and the high they get from doing their work keeps them flitting around the globe, looking for hot spots to help cool down. The trio's early success in Southeast Asia is only added encouragement, as they follow their own intertwining paths through the wars and killings of the 1990s. From Cambodia, Somalia and Haiti, to Bosnia, Rwanda and Liberia, Cain, Postlewait and Thomson find death, sex, bureaucratic betrayal, sex, liberation from their pasts and seamy, regret-tainted sex amid the body parts and rotting flesh. Infuriating, heart-wrenching and well written, their tale is compelling both as a bottom-up look at U.N. peacekeeping efforts during the 1990s and a testimonial from the people who put their lives and sanity on the line for the sake of a simple ideaâ€"peace. 16 pages of b&w photos not seen by PW.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

At the beginning of the 1990s, the authors, who did not know each other, came together in, of all places, Phnom Penh, Cambodia. There was the Harvard Law graduate who didn't want to be just another corporate lawyer; the New York social worker who saw her chance to make a difference slipping away; the missionary doctor looking for the best way to use his skills to help the people who need him most. They all came to Cambodia as part of the UN peacekeeping mission, and there they became friends, colleagues, and much more. The book is about people who went somewhere for all the right reasons and wound up facing challenges they never knew existed. The story is vividly told, almost tactile in its details. Many of the book's images--of poverty, desolation, abuse--are difficult to forget. For the authors, it was an experience that enriched them beyond measure. This is a unique and rewarding book, a mix of memoir, history, travel, and personal analysis. David Pitt
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Miramax (October 2, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1401359663
  • ISBN-13: 978-1401359669
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (79 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #446,379 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This is an astonishingly honest description of what happens to people from a sheltered Western background who suddenly have to cope with some of the most horrifying aspects of the world we find ourselves in. As you read it, look at the situations they find themselves in, and try to imagine how you would respond. Of course you'd criticize (often justly) the chiefs above you, but that doesn't mean that you'd do a better job. Don't read it as a political diatribe but as individuals trying to protect themselves and still do something when nothing can be done. I've worked in these and similar situations for twenty years, and have known many people like these three. Often you won't like them, because of the psychological coping mechanisms they have and the personalities they have developed that helps them through the morass.

THe sexual elements that run through the story--particularly Heidi's narrative--are one way of responding to death: by engaging in one of the most life-affirming acts there is. I've known people who, in the face of death, suddenly need 'emergency' sex to prove they are alive. I'm glad Heidi had the honesty to tell this side of the story, regardless of the consequences. I can't criticize her because I know many people who have many relationships for far worse reasons!

This isn't a book that should be read for its political position, for the 'truth' about what 'really happened'. For example, I disagree strongly with Ken about whether the Rwandan Genocide could have been stopped--and I was next door in Burundi watching it happen. He doesn't mention that the French sent troops in to reinstall the Hutu government, that they found it an impossible situation, and withdrew to the quietest corner of the country.
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Format: Hardcover
This book is a gripping read--an alternately fun and horrifying, sexy and perverse look at what it means to be a UN Peacekeeper. If you're someone who is intrigued by war zones but self-protecting enough to keep yourself out of them, these three authors take you there. The story is one giant adventure, related with mirth, honesty, and a healthy dose of humility. I love the authors for not foisting a political agenda, for being honest about their missteps, their passions, and the persistent question of whether it's redemptive or even worthwhile to stick three fingers in the dyke of global poverty and oppression. I found it more illuminating--and far more engaging--than any policy-oriented or historical rendering of the conflicts in Cambodia, Haiti, Somalia and Bosnia.
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Format: Hardcover
Here's a book for anyone who'd like to learn something about what's going on around the globe, in human language--not development jargon, not bulleted press notes, not preachy moralistic speaches, but real human language, from real people, who lived ten years of their lives in some of the world's toughest places, and who lived, loved and lost in those places. A gripping, moving, funny account.

I used to work with the UN myself, and the experiences that the authors write about are in some ways familiar (and in other ways, totally unfamiliar). This is not just a book about UN scandals or failures, as the media (and some reader reviews) suggest. This is largely, and maybe more to the point, a coming-of-age story, about three young people who confront their own life values and beliefs. It will make you think about your own role in the world -- and the roll those who are in positions of relative power, who have been given the "official" authority to proclaim moral judgement over the globe's hot spots. This is an important, moving book, that's sad in some parts, but also immensely rewarding.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Want a compelling narative? You will find it in this book! I thought it was very well written by all three authors and brilliantly editted as their memoirs are woven together beautifully (the voice changes every few pages, yet transitions well). The book is a compilation of thier personnal stories as U.N. workers assigned to some of the world's most dangerous places in recent history. Their accounts seemed thoughtful and very true to how they felt living through all they did. Their perception of things beyond what they experienced first hand may or may not be accurate (such as their take on the politics), but their perceptions of these things are well articulated and give context to how they experienced what they did on the gound. Their accounts are gripping, touching, disturbling, and even humorous at some points - creating a vivid picture for the reader of what it would have been like to have been with them. The book is a page turner and is hard to put down. It is little wonder that Miramax is the publisher since I think it could be turned into a great movie someday.
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Format: Hardcover
From the moment I heard about this 2004 book, subtitled "A true story from hell on earth", I knew I had to read it. Co-written by three former U.S. peace workers who met in Cambodia in 1993, this book is a perfect fit for my interests. Told in alternating first-person narratives, every word of their story rings true. And, as an added bonus, there's humor mixed in with the horror which is so funny that there were places where I actually laughed out loud. Their assignments included Cambodia, Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Rwanda and Liberia - and they soon lose their innocence about their "do-gooder" status.

When we first meet Heidi, she's 30 years old and has just walked away from a bad marriage. She's a secretary at the U.N. and jumps at the chance to travel to Cambodia as a peace worker for the elections. Then there is Ken, a Harvard law student who knows he wants more out of life than sitting in a corporate office. Andrew comes from New Zealand and is already working as a doctor in Cambodia. Through their own voices I felt I personally knew these individuals and was hearing their stories at a social gathering.

These stores, however, were more than just a tale told to entertain friends. They were personal, such as when Ken had a romantic experience with an Israeli woman during a scud missile attack and when Heidi, on a short vacation, has an affair with an African tribesman. But it is also about the abject fear they feel when the bullets are flying and the hard and scary choices they have to make when suddenly they are in charge. The stories also held details of terrible injustices and their privileged and powerless status of U.N. workers.

Andrew works in a hospital in Haiti that is not off-limits to men with guns who come in to finish off a patient.
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