Top critical review
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Engaging book but with major faults
on 29 June 2012
This is a highly readable book, which I found difficult to put down. The author went through great lengths collecting first hand evidence. The book is full of vivid descriptions of what actually has been going on in the Congo, so that after reading it, it is hard not to appreciate all the horrors experienced by the people.
However, I found major problems for it to be considered a serious history book.
1. At the outset Mr. Stearns warns the reader that the conflict in the Congo has been complex and confusing. Intentionally or not, but the author does not help to disengangle the confusion, but rather adds to it. The story is full of breaks in the chronology and a non-linear timeline, so often it is difficult to follow the author's narrative, let alone the moves of the protagonists. What works for "Pulp Fiction" is less helpful here.
2. Interviews with real participants of the events do illuminate the story, but I often found the book too much focused on interviews themselves rather than drawing connections between the described events and the larger story. It felt at times as if I was reading "World War Z".
3. I would hate to imply that the author is one-sided in his presentation of the events, but you do get a feeling that there is an immense share of attention given to atrocities committed by the side supported by Rwandan forces. At the same time, of the million refugees who crossed into the Congo a good half were shepharded by Rwandan troops back to Rwanda. Not a single page in the book is dedicated to this, how it happened, what was the result. At the same time there are description upon description of sufferings of the other half of the refugees.
In my opinion, if you already know the story of the war, this book can help with detailed insight into the events. For a new reader it may fail to provide a coherent understanding.