Customer Reviews for

The Zanzibar Chest

Average Rating 4.5
( 9 )
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  • Posted November 9, 2010

    Not your average father and son story

    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.

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  • Posted May 14, 2010

    A hair-raising account of the hair raising events in Eastern Africa in the past 20 years.

    "The Zanzibar Chest" reads like fiction even while you know it to be true. Aidan Hartley has clearly experienced an amazing life and surprisingly has lived to tell of it. The inside story of conflicts especially in Somalia and Rwanda are shared from his first person perspective. At the same time he weaves in tales for other parts of the former British Colonies in Africa and the Middle East from the life of his father and his acquaintances. For anyone who is interested in trying to untangle the mystery of Africa this is an incredible read. Hartley's cultural awareness, reckless lifestyle and attention to historical detail make this a sort of 21st century "Heart of Darkness". It's both a thrilling and horrifying book and a love story at the same time.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 20, 2007

    Thank you for sharing your fascinating life with us

    This book reads as though you are just sitting and chatting with the author. It skips around a lot between his life and that of his father's friend, Peter Davey. However, that adds a dimension to the book and helps the reader compare the author's life in Africa with that of his father's generation. You can easily see that in all those years, nothing has really changed for the better. Thank you for sharing your life with us. Everyone can learn about the harm that colonialism, militariliasm, prejudice and general greed continue to cause in this world.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 7, 2004

    Great book !

    This is a fascinating book about East Africa. The author has a very fast pace and I could not put this book down. The author grew up in Africa and his family is from there. The book is part family history and part [war] reportage. It really gives you the feeling of being with the reporters in blasted out cities, drinking beer and smoking cigarettes as total chaos unfolds (Somalia 1993, Ruanda 1994, etc.). This book I think has something for everyone and I think different types of readers will like it. You can read it as history, family biography, war reporting, a critique of modern journalism, or even as literature (it does remind me of Hemingway at times). I learned a lot on every page and I can't put it down. This book is tremendous !

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    Posted December 2, 2009

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    Posted January 28, 2009

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    Posted February 3, 2010

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