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Emma's War: A True Story Paperback – February 10, 2004
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From The New Yorker
In 1991, in the middle of a refugee crisis in southern Sudan, a twenty-seven-year-old British aid worker named Emma McCune scandalized the relief community by marrying a local guerrilla leader; the author describes Emma's brief career as a "First Lady-in-Waiting" as "the kind of surreal sideshow that often accompanies disasters." Formerly a champion of children's rights, Emma couldn't stop her husband from holding hundreds of adolescent boys in a squalid camp. Although she embraced the hardships of African life (bouts of malaria, water teeming with bilharzia), she was well-fed by local standards, eating fish that her husband's soldiers had stolen from a weaker, starving tribe. Meanwhile, Emma's fellow-expatriates grew less enchanted with her the more "African" she became—sick and constantly in need. Scroggins, a veteran reporter on Sudan, uses Emma's story to examine the failure of Western idealism in Africa. Emma turned out to be an incidental character: she died in 1993, in a traffic accident in Nairobi; the fighting continues.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker
“Scroggins brings Sudan’s agony to vivid life; at the same time, she gives us a lyrical, suspenseful, psychologically acute study in idealism and self-delusion.” —George Packer, The New York Times Book Review
"Breathtaking and beautifully written. . . . Deborah Scroggins weaves the greater issues of Sudan around [Emma] McCune’s idealism.” –USA Today
“Brilliantly penetrating. . . . In [Emma McCune] Scroggins has found a feckless, captivating subject, as insufferable as the white man's insatiable need for redemption in Africa…. Scroggins undoes every illusion about aid, hunger and rebellion.” –Washington Post
“A wonderful, challenging book. . . . One of the best that I have ever read on the difficult relationship between the developed world and the Third World.” —William Shawcross, Sunday Times (London)
Top customer reviews
I spent several months in Zaire/Congo right out of college and I finally understand the situation better. A number of my friends have been on missions in Africa. We cannot just stand back; yet, we must be aware of the effects of what we do and how we do it.
Excellent account! Kudos to Deborah Scroggins for trying to make sense of it all.
It's the brief comments out of the blue like this one that make the book well worth reading. In the first half of the book we have the settings, and a summary of Emma's life up to her final journey to Africa. The author's gift for synthesizing a lot of history regarding Emma and Sudan is truly laudable. But in the second part of the book, when it comes to the more day by day activities of the different tribes warfare and of Emma herself, it becomes boring, entangled and messy.
The most interesting and revealing passages come unexpectedly. The conversations with Arab characters candidly reveal their racism towards blacks, and their intolerance towards other religions other than Muslim (see p.103 for a clear example).
The issue of the European aid workers is always a intriguing psychological mystery: "It was against the unspoken rule of aid to admit that all one really wanted was to get away from home" (p.70) regarding Emma. You can make your own ideas about Emma and other aid workers, although intriguing, my own interest remained on the cultural issues at hand.
There are more stories that are not dealt with here. We see African aristocracy, tribal high-class studying in nice English universities, going back to Africa to use their education to make war and impose their law on the rest of the people. This is a class worth taking a look at. The aid workers are also a class in itself, their motivations for being there, their personal stories, are all very interesting. All these peoples are interesting. The book should have continued to be like in the first part, more analyses, more summarizing, and less he-said-she-said and soap-opera.