“An extraordinary and heartbreaking book, the finest account of a war correspondent’s psychic wracking since Michael Herr’s Dispatches, and the best white writing from Africa in many, many years.”Rian Malan, author of My Traitor’s Heart
The Zanzibar Chest
A Story of Life, Love, and Death in Foreign Lands
978-0-8021-2585-9 • $17.00 • Paperback • Dec. 2016
An epic narrative combining the literary reportage of Ryzard Kapuscinski with a historical love story reminiscent of Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient
In his final days, rising from a bed made of mountain cedar, lashed with thongs of rawhide from an oryx shot many years before, Aidan Hartley’s father says to him, “We should have never come.” Those words spoke of a colonial legacy that stretched back over 150 years through four generations of one British family. From great-great-grandfather William Temple, who was awarded the Victoria Cross for his role in defending British settlements in nineteenth century New Zealand, to his father, a colonial officer sent to Africa in the 1920s, building dams and irrigation projects in Arabia in the 1940s, then returning to Africa to raise a familythese were intrepid men who traveled to exotic lands to conquer, to build, and finally to bear witness. For finally there is Aidan, who becomes a journalist covering Africa in the 1990s. Weaving together stories, his family’s history, and his childhood in Africa, Aidan tells us what he saw.
After the end of the Cold War, there seemed to be new hope for Africa but again and againin Ethiopia, in Somalia, Rwanda, and the Congo, the terror and genocide prevailed. In Somalia, three of Aidan’s close friends are torn to pieces by an angry mob. Then, after walking overland from Uganda with the rebel army, Aidan is witness to the terrible atrocities in Rwanda, appearing at the sites and interviewing survivors days after the massacres. Finally, burnt out from a decade of horror, Aidan retreats to his family’s house in Kenya where he discovers the Zanzibar chest his father left him. Intricately hand-carved and smelling of camphor, the chest contained the diaries of his father’s best friend, Peter Davey, an Englishman who died under mysterious circumstances over fifty years ago. Tucking the papers under his arm, Hartley embarked on a journey to southern Arabia in an effort not only to unlock the secrets of Davey’s life, but of his own. He travels to the remote mountains and deserts of southern Arabia where his father served as a British officer. He begins to piece together the disparate elements of Davey’s story, a man who fell in love with an Arabian princess and converted to Islam, but ultimately had to pay an exacting price.
The Zanzibar Chest is an enthralling narrative of men and women meddling with, embracing, and ultimately being transformed by other culturesone of the most important examinations of colonialism ever written.