Former Times East Africa Correspondent Rob Crilly's Saving Darfur is surprisingly amusing considering the deadly serious subject matter. Liberated from the Times tight word-count, the writing style is very English and reminded me a little of Mac Donald Frazer's Flashman than more earnest (and duller) accounts.
I suspect this book is not destined to be carried around campus by bleeding hearts and angry young men. Which is a shame, because the self - depreciating Crilly comes across as an intelligent and likeable chap. I suspect he likes Africa a bit too much. Because he sets out to achieve what he knows will be hard to sell, to `complicate' the story of Darfur.
The result is not only a personal account par excellence. For along with a heavy dose of bluff humour, the odd stray misogynistic description, and tall (but I suspect in this case entirely truthful) tales. The book is packed with a rich vein of sometimes colourful, often plain irrelevant, but always interesting facts. It also tells the often tragic stories of those involved with objectivity and kindness and without show-boating.
It does what journalism is meant to - gives the reader with no-knowledge of the subject the vital wider context that would be impossible to slot in to five hundred words, told in the voice of a regular at your local pub. But Crilly's inclusion of the occasional conspiratorial gossipy tit-bit, and his often acerbic analysis of the world-view of the situation somehow promises to achieve the difficult balancing act of also amusing the most-jaded old Africa hand.
The book starts as a gloriously honest romp through the area's political landscape. As you would expect it draws heavily on Crilly's experiences as a former freelance journalist in the region, and I found myself laughing and cringing more than once at the frank (and often hilarious) descriptions of his mistakes. Mistakes which to those outside the situation might seem silly, but which are all too recognisable to anyone who has ever experienced the potent frustration of trying to operate in the infernal dichotomy that exists when rigid UK deadlines meet immeasurable `African time'.
But worked in with the buffoonery and bluster, there are also some serious, and important messages. The book challenges the status quo. It forces the reader to consider debates which I suspect would rage in private between intellectuals, aid workers, and journalists all over the region if everyone wasn't so scared of being kicked out.