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The Zanzibar Chest: A Story of Life, Love, and Death in Foreign Lands Hardcover – 1 Jul 2003

4.5 out of 5 stars 24 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 414 pages
  • Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Press; 1 edition (July 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0871138719
  • ISBN-13: 978-0871138712
  • Product Dimensions: 23.5 x 16.3 x 3.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 3,021,741 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product description

Review

"A lyrical, searing memoir...Hartley has fashioned a mesmerizing story of pain and loss."

"The finest account of a war correspondent''s psychic wracking since Michael Herr''s Dispatches"--Rian Malan

"The finest account of a war correspondent's psychic wracking since Michael Herr's Dispatches"Rian Malan" --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From the Publisher

Aidan Hartley is a brilliant young writer in the style of award-winners Dalrymple, Maclean and Marsden.

* Shortlisted for the prestigious Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-fiction.

* This book is a spiritual memoir, a fascinating travel journal and a work of riveting history - a non fiction The English Patient.

* Includes an informative and fascinating PS section with an author profile and essay by Hartley's fellow journalist in Africa, Johnathan Clayton. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This was a hard read to get through - not because it is difficult but simply the subject matter. At many times it made me very angry and at others sad and dejected for the state of Africa and the world in general. However this is well worth the read and extremely informative from someone on the ground during terrible times. Excellently written.
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Format: Hardcover
The title of Aidan Hartley's book - the Zanzibar Chest - is an arresting one, but it has actually little to do with the contents of the book itself. We can read fragments of the diaries found in the camphor chest belonging to his father - written by a Peter Christmas(!) Davey, his friend - who had spent his early years in Arabia in the '30s and, speaking arabic, was employed as a political officer for the British government. In this role he was expected to broker peace between the feuding tribes so some sort of development could begin. Davey fell in love with a local woman, around which is woven a beautifully described and romantic story, with vivid descriptions of the Yemen of the period, its architecture, and its people. At the same time, and this really is the principal subject of the book, we read of the author's own experiences in Africa, from the time he was born there, his first vague recollections, and the experiences of his own parents during their early lives about which the author describes vividly the results of the "winds of change" blowing through Africa at the time. However,it's as if the author is too modest to say "this is what I have done with my life" and has found an excuse to write his memoirs - despite his still being only 35 - and to use the story of his father's friend as a leitmotif for writing the book. The story that is really gripping - until the last page - is of Aidan Hartley's own experiences - and derring-do - in what have been the most dangerous places on earth, as a "stringer" for Reuters, working with them in places from Bosnia to Rwanda, from Ethiopia to the Sudan, from Somalia to Burundi.Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover
As an NGO worker based in Nairobi, ‘The Zanzibar Chest’ was a must read for me. However Hartley has not just rattled off the 1990's well documented ‘New World Order’ war stories. He has used the backdrop of his own life as a Nairobi based Reuter’s hack to delve into not just his own family history but also that of long-term family friend Peter Davey, a British Colonial Officer based in Aden in the 30's with the seemingly impossible mandate of conflict resolution long before the term was invented.
Of the three stories, his own, as a sometimes brutally honest and frequently hilarious account of his journalistic work is the most interesting and it appears the subject matter he is most comfortable with. However the concurrent Davey story, and the author’s seeming need to reconcile himself with his vastly elevated father-figure, whose affirmation appears still being sought from the pages of this memoir long after the man's death, definitely make this a more interesting read.
Aside from the above, Hartley, like many others who witnessed so much carnage through the 90’s, appears still haunted by the horror. This is not shied away from, rather used as a stick to beat the reader over the head in its extraordinary descriptiveness. From the beer, prostitute and drug soaked nightlife of Nairobi’s underbelly, to the shocking descriptions of some of the cruellest acts ever committed on this planet, to the gentle stories of love and families trying to survive each other, Aidan Hartley takes the reader with him.
This is a sometimes complex story that twists and turns, hauls you in then spits you back out again, but always engages you as it makes its way towards its conclusion, and it seems, some well earned peace for its author.
Its fantastic.... buy it!
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Aidan Hartley's `Zanzibar Chest' interweaves four strands - the horrors of Somalia and Rwanda, the life of Hartley's father, the life of Hartley's father's friend Peter Davey, and Aidan Hartley's own life as a Reuters reporter. At times there seems little connection between these stories other than Africa and its effect on lives and of course the connection of Hartley himself. There is a little on the Serbia/Croatia/Bosnia conflict confusingly thrown in too which turns the book into more of Hartley's own idiosyncratic and rather sad autobiography. The book is increasingly well written and more readable as it progresses. Many of the later descriptive passages are evocative, beautific and haunting. But the opening section on Hartley's father's life is almost hagiographic. It is strange to read a book with every other sentence about what `my father' did next. The style is inevitably teenage. Hartley lionises his father although he is temporarily set back by learning of his father's dual life with an African wife and child. The life of Peter Davey is fascinating but could almost better be told separately, even making four separate sections of the book.

The fact of the Africa presented in the book is extreme and partial - it is about horror in Somalia and Rwanda. At times it becomes a concatenation of press reporting. It is entirely narrative history in which Hartley provides no interpretation or analysis. This is surprising and disappointing for someone of his intellectual capacity (Oxford and the School of Oriental and African Studies).
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