While this book wasn’t what I was expecting, I want to declare right at the outset that it was REALLY REALLY GOOD! The author, Aidan Hartley, is a journalist and The Zanzibar Chest is his memoir of his childhood, being born and raised in Tanzania, and also the years of his 20’s and 30’s, when he was war correspondent in Africa. The son of a British military colonial, Aidan’s family had a rich history of living the ex-pat life. Weaving in tales of his father’s life in Africa, Aidan Hartley narrates a scene of beauty, love, fear and loss.
At night, lions grunted and roared and the hollow volcanic hill rumbled as rhino cantered by … “We were in a paradise,” said my father, “that we can never forget, nor equal.”
As the book progresses, the reader is a fly on the wall, observing the life of a young journalist.
“I remember how an American dropped his trousers for a group of us at the bar and boasted how he’d lost his left testicle in a Balkans mine blast, which he claimed hadn’t prevented him from seducing a nurse during his recovery in a Budapest hospital.”
As Hartley finds himself in the midst of war-torn Somalia, Serbia and Rwanda, his writing becomes darker and eventually he cannot distance himself from the horror.
“They say we journalists ignored the story for months. We were there all the time. What’s true is that we didn’t understand at the time the full magnitude of what was happening. I was an ant walking over the rough hide of an elephant. I had no idea of the scale of what I was witnessing.”
I highly, highly recommend this superb memoir.
4 1/2 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2003