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Emma's War: An aid worker, a warlord, radical Islam, and the politics of oil--a true story of love and death in Sudan Hardcover – October 1, 2002

4.3 out of 5 stars 37 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this gripping, layered analysis of the brutal civil war in Sudan, Scroggins examines the complex relationship between the West and troubled Africa. She studies it through the experiences of Emma McCune, a romantic, idealistic British aid worker who married a Sudanese warlord responsible for the kind of violence she had been trying to ameliorate. "Emma's War" is what Sudanese called the battle that broke out within the Sudanese rebel movement in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Scroggins, who reported from Sudan for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, plumbs her subject's experiences without engaging in crude psychology as she tracks Emma's early childhood and the suicide of her father. While in college, the restless, adventurous and striking-looking Emma developed a growing fascination with Africa, and African men. Through her keen observations and fluid writing, Scroggins shows how, after arriving in the Sudan, McCune came to drop her veneer as an aid worker and become both second wife to a rebel leader and apologist for the atrocities of rebel groups. McCune, the author writes, was a "natural partisan" with an idealism that "was out of place in the context of a ruthless African civil war." But this is more than just the story of one Westerner gone native. In Scroggins's deft hands, McCune also becomes a symbol for those Westerners who, while well intentioned, eventually harm the developing world more than they help it and become disillusioned in the process.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Neatly complementing Rieff's A Bed for the Night (above), here's the story of relief worker Emma McCune, who ended up marrying the local warlord in Sudan.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 408 pages
  • Publisher: Pantheon; First Edition edition (October 1, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375403973
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375403972
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.3 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,120,950 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Linda Linguvic HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on January 20, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I used to believe that aid workers really helped people. I'm not so sure any more. I chose to read this fascinating book because I knew little, if anything, about the Sudan. I know a lot more now. And it's not very pleasant. The author, Deborah Scoggins certainly knows this. She's an American journalist who's won awards for her fine reporting. And she's experienced firsthand the famines and frustrated attempts by aid workers who are often pawns of Sudanese politics, exacerbating the endemic horrors of the ongoing civil war.
Into this mix comes the true store of Emma McCune, a romantic British aid worker with a feisty personality and an attraction to African men. It's the early 1990's and the idealist Emma tries to set up schools for the children of the warring tribes. When she finds the young boys being kidnapped to fight in guerilla armies, she does what she can to bring attention to the problem which is just one of many that plague the country. Eventually, she meets Reik Machar, a British-educated African leader of his people. She marries him and gets swept up in the complicated intrigues and politics. As she changes, she becomes a pragmatic apologist for the murders and tortures that her husband orchestrates. Her tragic story is the center of the book. This was a wise choice of the author, who even includes photos of Emma and her husband as well as some horrific images of the famine around her.
The book, however, is more than just Emma's story. Scrupulously researched, it is the story of Africa itself, and the Sudan in particular. There's the Islamic north with ties to Osama bin Laden. There's the Animist and Christian south where oil has been discovered. There are dozens of tribes with hatreds between them that go back for centuries.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a must-read book!
Deborah Scroggins does a fabulous job over covering the long-running civil war in Sudan. Rather than being simply a history book, she weaves in the human story of Emma McCune, a British aid worker who leaves neutrality behind to marry a southern Sudanese warlord.
Emma is both an admired and reproachable character. She moves to Africa, sacrificing the comforts of the West, to start schools, which she hopes will prevent children from being turned into soldiers. But, at some point, her romantic vision of Africa, schoolgirl ideals of love overcoming all, and delusions about being a bridge between khawajas, or whites, and Africans drives her into the perilous arms of Riek Machar. Riek, at first a "good guy," eventually turns on southern Sudanese, becoming responsible for thousands of deaths -either from starvation or bullets.
Deborah does a great job at exploring the idea that despite good intentions, Western aid may not be what Africa needs. She points out that most workers don't understand the history, the culture or the politics of the nation. Without that understanding, seemingly innocent actions produced deadly consequences.
Deborah gathered her information from personal interviews with key players, as well as visits to Sudan. This well-written, well-researched book illustrates the suffering of the Sudanese people. I finished it feeling deeply sad about the starvation and disease that has claimed nearly two million Sudanese lives. The war raged over religion (Islam vs. Christianity vs. Secularlism), oil and tribal differnces. It could have been prevented.
This book also helped me understand the connections between Africa and the Middle East. Afterall, Sudan was the country where Osama bin Laden lived before moving to Afghanistan.
With the global war on terrorism and President Bush's focus on Africa, this book is timely and informative.
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Format: Hardcover
Scroggins' story about Emma is a strange one, but the detailed descriptions of Scroggins' observations and experiences provide a stunning description of starvation, war, and disease in southern Sudan. Some parts of this book will stay with the reader for a very long time. The book is monumental and fulfills one's expectation of an epic story. I believe that the descriptions of the famine and its consequences must have been a painful story to tell, and we are indebted to Ms. Scroggins for her great effort.
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By A Customer on January 4, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Anyone with any illusions about serving as an aide worker needs to read this book - if only to see the seemier side of an occupation that appeals to many jobless college graduates.
Scroggins opened my eyes, at least, to what goes on behind the news of wars in Africa. She has untangled the web of tribal and clan animosities which propel events there, and through the story of one misguided Englishwoman, shows us how good intentions (not to mention the dollars we donate to aid organizations) go astray.
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Format: Hardcover
The Emma in question is a want-to-be aid worker who got caught up in the feuds of Sudan, marrying the warlord leader of one of the multiple factions in Sudan's wars. It is an interesting story in itself but it is only part of Scroggins' book, which explores the Sudan and its fractious history, building some kind of explanation of how Sudan got itself into the mess it is in today. She also explores the influence of Western humanitarian aid, questioning the motives of those involved. The conclusions reached are bleak and depressing, yet sadly realistic.
There is a lot of detail in the book - tribes involved, their interwoven politics, the personalities of those involved and their backgrounds. What could have been a very dry read is made fascinating by Scroggins - she never takes anything or anyone at face values, exploring the story behind the story.
Anyone who thinks they understand what the Horn of Africa needs should read this book before saying anything. It may not be the full story, but it makes many valid and well thought out points.
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