I Didn't Do It for You: How the World Betrayed a Small African Nation [NOOK Book]


Scarred by decades of conflict and occupation, the craggy African nation of Eritrea has weathered the world's longest-running guerrilla war. The dogged determination that secured victory against Ethiopia, its giant neighbor, is woven into the national psyche, the product of cynical foreign interventions. Fascist Italy wanted Eritrea as the springboard for a new, racially pure Roman empire; Britain sold off its industry for scrap; the United States needed a base for its state-of-the-art spy station; and the Soviet...

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I Didn't Do It for You: How the World Betrayed a Small African Nation

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Scarred by decades of conflict and occupation, the craggy African nation of Eritrea has weathered the world's longest-running guerrilla war. The dogged determination that secured victory against Ethiopia, its giant neighbor, is woven into the national psyche, the product of cynical foreign interventions. Fascist Italy wanted Eritrea as the springboard for a new, racially pure Roman empire; Britain sold off its industry for scrap; the United States needed a base for its state-of-the-art spy station; and the Soviet Union used it as a pawn in a proxy war.

In I Didn't Do It for You, Michela Wrong reveals the breathtaking abuses this tiny nation has suffered and, with a sharp eye for detail and a taste for the incongruous, tells the story of colonialism itself and how international power politics can play havoc with a country's destiny.

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Editorial Reviews

William Grimes
Although Ms. Wrong, as a reporter, stepped into Eritrean history during the heady days of independence, her most gripping pages deal with the colonial period and the battle of Keren, which she recounts in pulse-pounding prose. Badly outnumbered, British forces managed to take the citadel-like Keren, suffering appalling losses. This was a turning point. For the first time, Ms. Wrong argues, the Allies showed that the Axis war machine could be beaten; yet, typically, Keren ranks as one of the least-celebrated engagements of the Second World War.
— The New York Times
Susan E. Rice
Wrong excels as a storyteller, providing evocative descriptions of Eritrea's dramatic topography and gripping dollops of military history, especially the dramatic British defeat of Italy's best Alpine forces at Keren in 1941. She paints fascinating personal portraits, including those of the grandiose Italian governor Ferdinando Martini and the British suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst, a relentless critic of her own government. The stories of Eritrean fighters such as double agent Melles Seyoum (who stole valuable medical supplies from his Ethiopian employer), a bicycle-mounted hit man known as Asmerom and John Berakis (the famous field-hospital chef who studied European hoteliers' books and served great battlefield chow to thousands at a time, making the most of limited ingredients) offer enthralling insights into the liberation struggle.
— The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
Much like Wrong's In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz (2001), covering the reign of Zaire's brutal dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, this book taps at the world's conscience, asking who is to blame for the suffering and neglect of postcolonial African states; it takes Eritrea as case study and victim. A veteran Africa correspondent for the Financial Times, Wrong writes in a pointedly digressive style full of narrative side roads that accommodate a daunting level of geographical and historical detail. Historical highlights include a colorful profile of the late 19th-century writer and Italian parliamentarian Ferdinando Marini that draws on his extensive memoirs about his tenure as the first civil governor of the region as an Italian colony. The early 1960s conflict, occupation and independence of this small neighbor to Ethiopia also make for a terrible, gripping story, including border disputes and bloody war with Ethiopia. A complicated history so punctuated with violence is not exactly easy to read about, but the author's extraordinary grasp of the postcolonial psyche and tormented national identity of this country makes it fascinating. Agent, Joy Harris. (June 14) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A near-lethal combination of colonialism, Cold War bluster, war and disastrous decision-making has pushed Eritrea, perched atop Ethiopia, to the precipice of history. Wrong, who has corresponded for the BBC and the Financial Times, returns to Africa with an analysis every bit as devastating as her In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz (2001). The scope of her research is astonishing. She visited the country numerous times-in its various manifestations of calm, disarray, chaos, hope and despair; she interviewed key personalities; she read everything directly relevant-and much that's usefully illustrative. Most important, she thought deeply about how this small country has somehow attracted the notice of powers and superpowers. The title refers to a vicious crack made to an old black woman by a swaggering British officer after an important military victory over the Italians on Eritrean soil: "We didn't do it for you, nigger." Indeed. The West has not done much for the country, in Wrong's analysis, except exploit it in times of self-interest and ignore it otherwise. Wrong begins with some allusions to Lost Horizon and with some lyrical aerial descriptions of Eritrea (a conflation of the Latin for "Red Sea"), then retreats into history to tell us the sad story of this country's struggles. Before WWII, the Italians came, erecting beautiful buildings and building railways in unimaginably difficult terrain. The British drove them out during WWII, then in turn yielded to the Americans, who saw on an Eritrean high plateau a perfect spot for electronic eavesdropping. Among the nastiest sections in this nasty volume concern the tenure of the Americans, who behaved with an abominable disrespect for thepeople and the place. "Ugly American" is too pale a term. Then came the Cold War and the senseless, destructive global posturing in Africa by the superpowers, and ruinous, sanguinary wars with Ethiopia. Wrong's fiery prose boils the blood and burns infamy into the memory. (2 maps, not seen)
New York Times Book Review
“Engaging history . . . A vivid story of a nation repeatedly trampled by foreign powers until it won its independence.”
Washington Post Book World
“A highly readable, well-researched depiction of the region’s serial exploitation by a parade of foreign predators.”
Los Angeles Times
“With rich prose and the passion she brings to the subject of [Eritrea’s] independence... Wrong provides a very readable journalistic.”
The Progressive
“If you want to understand the world...I DIDN’T DO IT FOR YOU provides the best starting point.”
“An engaging read... Devastating detail... This is probably the best book that could be written about Eritrea.”
New York Times
“Eloquent and impassioned . . . [A] splendid account of modern Eritrean history . . . Scrupulous and honest.”
Daily Telegraph (London)
“A fascinating and tragic story . . . Wrong’s account [is] gripping.”
The Economist
“Wrong’s...original research is more illuminating, her eye more observant, her writing far more wry and witty.”
Monica Ali
“A gripping political thriller.”
John le Carré
“Contemporary history on the grand scale. I was entertained, informed and angered . . . A splendid achievement.”
Aminatta Forna
“Vivid, penetrating, wonderfully detailed. Michela Wrong...has excavated the very heart and soul of the Eritrean people and their country.”
Anthony Sampson
“Engrossing, vividly written in the style of the best thrillers...It should become the standard work on the region.”
“An engaging read... Devastating detail... This is probably the best book that could be written about Eritrea.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061860669
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 10/13/2009
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 480
  • Sales rank: 511,851
  • File size: 600 KB

Meet the Author

Michela Wrong has worked as a foreign correspondent for Reuters, the BBC, and the Financial Times. She has written about Africa for Slate.com and is a frequent commentator on African affairs in the media. Her first book, In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz, won the James Stern Silver Pen Award for Nonfiction. She lives in London.

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Read an Excerpt

I Didn't Do It for You

How the World Betrayed a Small African Nation
By Michela Wrong

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2005 Michela Wrong
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0060780924

Chapter One

The City Above the Clouds

'That thin air had a dream-like texture, matching the porcelainblue of the sky, with every breath and every glance he took in a deep anaesthetising tranquillity.'

Lost Horizons, James Hilton

Whenever I land in Asmara, a novel read in adolescence comes to mind. It tells the story of a small plane whose pilot turns hijacker. Crash-landing in a remote part of the Himalayas, he dies of his injuries before he can explain his bizarre actions to the dazed passengers. They emerge from the wreckage to be greeted by a wizened old monk, who leads them to a citadel hidden above the peaks, a secret city whose existence has never been recorded on any map. They are welcomed to Shangri-La, where, breathing the chill air that wafts from the glaciers and surveying the world from a tremendous height, they begin reassessing their lives with the same calm detachment and cosmic clarity as the monks. But as time goes by, they learn they must make a terrible choice. They can stay in Shangri-La and live forever, for their hosts have discovered something approaching the secret of eternal youth. Or they can plunge back into the hurly-burly of the life they knew and eventually die as ordinary mortals, grubbing around down on the plains.

Flying in from Cairo, where even during an early-morning stopover the air blasted radiator-hot through the open aircraft door, one always had the sense of landing in a capital locate where, by rights, it had no place to be.

Even in the satellite photos Eritrea, a knobbly elongate( triangle lying atop Ethiopia, its giant neighbour to the south seems an inhospitable destination, a landscape still too raw for human habitation. The route the planes follow takes you over mile upon relentless mile of dun-coloured desolation, mach beautiful only by the turquoise fringe where sand meets sea' a beauty that you know would evaporate if ever you ventured down to sea level to brave the suffocating heat. A spray of islands, the Dahlak, show only the faintest dusting of green. The rolling coastal sands, which show up from outer space as a strip of pearly-pink, run from the port of Massawa north-west to the border of Sudan. To the south-east, where a long, thin finger of land points towards Djibouti, the rock turns a forbidding black. Volcanic lava flows have created a landscape grimmer than the surface of the moon. This is the infamous Danakil Depression, said to be the hottest place on earth, where summer temperatures touch heights feared by even the whippet-thin Afar tribesmen. Behind this flat coastal strip, the land billows up to form a magnificent escarpment, the ripples of hills deepening into jagged waves of dark rock, a giant crumple of mountain creased by empty ravines and bone-dry river beds. It is only in the triangle's western corner, where Eritrean territory juts and bulges into northern Ethiopia, that rivers - the Gash and the Barka - flow all year round. Here in the western lowlands, the gradient finally levels off, wrinkles smooth away and the arid sands cede to the deep green that spells rain, the shade of trees, the blessing of crops.

But it is not the bleakness, but the altitude that makes Asmara's location as improbable as that of Shangri-La. The Italians who colonized Eritrea at the tail end of the 19th century fled the stifling heat of the Red Sea by heading into the ether, up towards the kebessa, or central highlands. Coming in to land on the wide Hamasien plateau, there is none of the familiar routine of diving through a carpet of white fug to emerge in another, greyer reality. Defying the laws of gravity, planes bound for Asmara certainly go up, but to passengers aboard they barely seem to bother coming down. You hardly have time to register the neat concentric rings -- like worm's trails -- left by farmers' terracing, the rust-coloured plain, the long white scratches of roads, before the wheels hit the ground. At 7,600 ft -- a mile and a half high -- the capital lies at the same heady altitude as many of Europe's lower ski stations. The crisp mountain air is so thin, landing pilots must slam on their brakes and then keep them, shrieking, in place, to prevent their aircraft overshooting the tarmac. Take-offs seem to go on forever, as the accelerating plane lumbers down the tarmac in search of air resistance, finally achieving just enough friction for the rules of aerodynamics to kick in before it careers into the long grass.

Go to the edge of the escarpment, on the outskirts of town, and you will find yourself on the lip of an abyss. You are at eye level with eagles that launch themselves like suicides into the void, leaping into a blue haze into which mountain peaks, far-off valleys and distant sea all blur. At this altitude, only the most boisterous clouds succeed in rising high enough to drift over the city. Pinned down by gravity, they form instead a sulky cumulus eiderdown that barely shoulders the horizon. So for much of the year, the sky above Asmara is clear blue a delicate cornflower merging into a deep indigo that holds out the promise of outer space. In Western cities at night, the orange glow of street lamps washes out the stars ...


Excerpted from I Didn't Do It for You by Michela Wrong Copyright © 2005 by Michela Wrong. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 3, 2005

    Very Informative

    As a soldier stationed in Asmara, Eritrea. I was very interested in reading this book. I can only say that the author did her homework and I was very impressed on how much new information I gathered from this book. My heart goes out to the Eritrean people and hopefully one day Eritrea will be a truelly free and Independant country. I only add to the facts that US Military personnal stationed at Kagnew Station, worked hard at their mission and respected the Eritrean people.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 25, 2012

    I Also Recommend:

    Great Read

    A phenomenal book, Michela Wrong not only writes about the history but makes the reader feel as though they are watching it firsthand. A great book for anybody that wants to understand how our nation and the West in general, tends to live in the now, ignoring in full, the context of what is happening. This book is so good that I have purchased it and given it as a gift, definitely a must read!

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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