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5.0 out of 5 stars
Not your average father and son story, 9 Nov 2010
This amazing book, at its heart, is about the contrast of two distinct generations and perspectives: that of a post-modern war correspondent on the ground and often embedded during armed conflict in Africa and that of his father, who worked in the civil service both during the British rule in Africa, as well as after independence. One is a life of observing history in the making and one is of active participation in making history. Mr Hartley slips back and forth between his years as a reporter and that of his father's years in the civil service with consummate grace and an aptitude for connecting those elements that seem timeless in Africa. While the experiences of Mr Hartley often come at a fast and furious pace, the experiences of his father and his father's friend Peter Davey, are no less emotional or deeply compelling. There is a very romantic feel to the descriptions of the father's colonial era and remind me of Karen Blixen's in 'Out of Africa'. Whereas Mr Hartley's escapes and harrowing moments are related to us in a manner as shocking as anything Bret Easton Ellis might pen or as humorously as Evelyn Waugh.
I didn't need to read this book to learn more about Rwanda's genocide or Somalia's war tragedies or even about Africa's colonial past. I had a reasonable understanding of these events already. What I did get out of the book in spades was a very personal and mesmerizing narrative that sucks you into the lives of the people Mr Hartley came to know and the people his father and his father's friend came to know. If I can compare 'The Zanzibar Chest' to another successful narrative of conflict, war and its human costs, I would compare it to Michael Shaara's historical fiction 'The Killer Angels'. It is possibly not ideal to compare a historical fiction, based on historical record to that of a biographical chronicle, but both writers delve into the personal histories, inner workings and motivations of real individuals and then place them and their actions carefully into the chronology of events as they happened. But as 'The Zanzibar Chest' is autobiographical, it is the author's own personal history and inner workings that drag you deeply into his chaotic world with each turn of the page. The book also serves as a poignant epitaph to the fallen friends and colleagues of Mr Hartley. I highly recommend this book. I couldn't put it down once I picked it up. Please read the other positive reviews on Amazon, I agree with many of their points as well.