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Ciao Asmara [Paperback]

Justin Hill
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)

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Book Description

20 Jun 2002
Asmara is the capital of Eritrea - a surreally Italian city at the centre of an ex-Italian colony that has been at war with its neighbour Ethiopia (who claim sovereignty over Eritrea) for over ten years. Amidst broken palaces (built by the late Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie), nomadic desert encampments and war-torn towns, Hill found a god-fearing people remarkably resistant to everything fate has thrown at them. This book is a tribute to their resilience and will stand beside Philip Gouravitch's Rwandan book, WE WISH TO INFORM YOU THAT TOMORROW YOU WILL BE KILLED WITH YOUR FAMILIES, as a classic account of contemporary Africa.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Abacus (20 Jun 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0349115265
  • ISBN-13: 978-0349115269
  • Product Dimensions: 21 x 13.4 x 2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 279,932 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Justin Hill was born in Freeport, Grand Bahama Island in 1971 and was brought up in York. He was educated at England's oldest school - St Peter's, York (founded 627 AD), and studied Medieval Literature at St Cuthbert's Society, Durham University.

Justin worked for seven years as a volunteer with VSO (Voluntary Service Overseas) in rural China and Eritrea, East Africa. Interviewers have likened him to George Orwell, a boxer, and Tolstoy.

The Independent on Sunday listed as one of the UK's Top Twenty Young British Writers in 2002. His vivid depictions of his experiences in fiction and travelogues have been acclaimed both at home and internationally, as well as being banned by the Chinese government. He has won the Somerset Maugham Award, the Betty Trask Award, the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize. His work has been shortlisted for the Thomas Cook Travel Book Award and the Encore Award.

He is currently writing the Conquest Series: which covers the events around the Battle of Hastings in 1066. Shieldwall, the first of these, was a Sunday Times Book of the Year.

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Product Description


The book is a love letter to the country he had to leave...The tone is low-key, but the story is anything but that: a brief and beautiful moment of calm in between storms (SUNDAY TIMES)

Hill is a great and passionate storyteller, and his account is both readable and important (INDEPENDENT ON SUNDAY)

Exquisite...CIAO ASMARA tells of hope deferred... His valediction has all the bittersweet anger and gratitude of Orwell's escape from Barcelona (INDEPENDENT)

A tapesty woven with fact and testament, a captivating memoir tinged with tragedy. (GOOD BOOK GUIDE)

Book Description

* Eritrea & Ethiopia have not been out of the news since Band Aid in 1985 and Ciao Asmara is set to become an African travel classic.

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
4.2 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Ciao Asmara 4 Dec 2002
I have recently read Justin Hill's account of life in Eritrea in the late 1990s. I was fortunate enough to live in Asmara from 1992 to 1994 and have to confess to having fallen deeply in love with that wonderful, magical, beautiful country and its determined, fascinating peoples. I was there for the start of the dream and, as one who has been intimately involved with Africa for over half my life, was in a position to have an objective view of the situation.
Hill's account of Eritrea's fall from heady optimism to abject despair is a story I know well and one he narrates with accuracy and insight. The book is well written and researched, he has attained a good grasp of things Eritrea making his account that much more poignant to those who know and love the country. It was easy to recognise all of the individuals mentioned, by type if not by person.
A useful publication and one I would not hesitate to recommend to anyone with an interest in that part of the world. I would, however, suggest reading Thomas Kennealy's excellent "Towards Asmara" prior to commencing "Ciao Asmara", it paints as excellent a picture of Eritrea prior to independence fron Ethiopia and puts the "dream" into some context.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Things were better during the war." 5 Aug 2002
By A Customer
It's a sentiment that we may have heard our grandparents say at one time or another when despairing of the loss of community values or the price of a loaf. Although peacetime brought improved prosperity and security, "The War" was fondly remembered as a time when everyone had a common purpose, a common enemy - a time when they felt most alive, at least for those that survived.
So it is with the Eritrea that Justin Hill encounters in this fascinating and eye-opening book. Having emerged from a thirty-year struggle for independence against a Soviet backed dictator, only to slide once more into war against Ethiopia, this is a nation for whom war and struggle provide their recent histories and heroes (as well as horror and tragedy). Yet although peace and independence was the desired destination for those who participated, its achievement brings an end to the most exciting journey of their lives. The memories of the struggle and the unity of purpose that it seemed to bring to those involved inform almost every aspect of life in Eritrea, hence they are recurring themes throughout this very readable book.
Yet it is the cruel legacy of such a long war, that people do not know how to deal with peace. The war shaped everybody's life to the extent that, during the calm and ennui of peacetime, people actually miss it. Hill describes young men and women who have grown up knowing little else than war. Furthermore, the post-war social hierarchy gives those who fought in the war higher status and privilege, so the rush towards a new war towards the end of the book actually gives young people the perverse hope of achieving social advancement through enlisting.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lavoro bello 29 July 2002
By A Customer
Ciao Asmara is Justin's second travel book. The raw material for the book is his experience teaching English as a voluntary aid worker in Eritrea.
Justin skillfully blends an account of his time in Africa and the people he met with historical background and commentary.
When Justin arrived in Asmara the former rebels were struggling to get the country back on its feet after more than 30 years of war with Ethiopia, its neighbour and former master. The challenge was enormous, with almost a whole generation having been wiped out. Those that remained and had fought so hard for independence knew only war.
If like me your only knowledge of that region was gleaned from news reports of the famine in Ethiopia in the mid 1980s (the impetus behind Live Aid) then this book will be highly instructive.
Justin has a lightness of touch that communicates very well his admiration, frustration and at times despair with his colleagues, pupils and friends.
And there is humour also. Thankfully Justin has no wish to save the world and no political agenda to promote. He simply writes things as he sees them.
There is no happy ending - Justin is evacuated at the end of the book as Eritrea once again prepares itself for war. We do not know what has become of the characters he describes in his book, but we must assume that many of them are now dead.
Ciao Asmara is a quick but rewarding read. I would thoroughly recommend it.
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