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The Zanzibar Chest

The Zanzibar Chest

4.5 10
by Aidan Hartley
Hartley, a frontline reporter who covered the atrocities of 1990s Africa, embarks on a journey to unlock the mysteries and secrets of his own family's 150-year-colonial legacy in Africa, and delivers a beautiful, sometimes harrowing memoir of intrepid young men cut down in their prime, of forbidden love and its fatal consequences, and of family and history, and the


Hartley, a frontline reporter who covered the atrocities of 1990s Africa, embarks on a journey to unlock the mysteries and secrets of his own family's 150-year-colonial legacy in Africa, and delivers a beautiful, sometimes harrowing memoir of intrepid young men cut down in their prime, of forbidden love and its fatal consequences, and of family and history, and the collision of cultures that defined them both.

Editorial Reviews

Only a person who truly understands Africa, having been born, raised and nurtured by the continent, could be as honest a reporter of its glories and horrors as Aidan Hartley. He worked as a reporter during the '90s and was witness to some of the terrible massacres, famines and suffering; but as an African native himself, though one with Western eyes, he reveals an Africa rarely seen by Americans. Contrasting with his own adventures are those of his father's friend, Peter Davey, who experienced different trials in East Africa a generation before Hartley, an honest and vivid writer. Much of what he writes is not pretty, but everything is insightful. KLIATT Codes: SA—Recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2003, Penguin, Riverhead, 479p. illus., Ages 15 to adult.
—Nola Theiss
From the Publisher

A finalist for the Samuel Johnson Prize
A Publishers Weekly and Economist best book of the year

The Zanzibar Chest is a many-legged hybrid. In part it is a wrenching account of African horrors, particularly those of Somalia and Rwanda . . . [it] is also a loving, often evocative account of East Africa where the author grew up . . . An unassailable mix of irony, vainglory, passionate sympathy and despair.”New York Times

“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

“A masterpiece.”Spectator (UK)

“A brilliant portrait, fond but candid, of the ‘hacks’ who chase dramatic stories in exotic and scary places—‘the good times, the friendship, intensity, fear, sense of purpose, the sheer escapism of it all’—but declines at all turns to lapse into sentimentality.”Washington Post

“A tale of furious adrenaline.”Christian Science Monitor

"Slam-bang adventure and shimmering poetry. It is hilarious, orgiastically bawdy, poignantly romantic, gory as war itself, and populated with a census-sized number of vivid personalities. All that—plus informative and dreadfully prophetic."Washington Times

"The Zanzibar Chest is a stunning piece of work. It will reside permanently in my memory. No one should dare say the word Africa without reading it."—Jim Harrison

"A lyrical, searing memoir. Out of the ashes of . . . misbegotten hopes, Hartley has fashioned a mesmerizing story of pain and loss."Newsweek

"A startlingly refreshing perspective on the political, social, and cultural impact of British colonialism in Africa and Arabia . . . putting a contemporary face on historic colonialism with an accuracy and veracity seldom seen in Western critiques."Booklist

"A profoundly moving masterpiece . . . This is much, much more than a book about war reporting. It is an extraordinary tapestry of friendships, love affairs, betrayals, and murders that finally come together to give us an intimate and epic portrait of Africa in the twentieth century."—Hossein Amini

"Thrillingly charged with an undercurrent of passion."—Salon

"A work of tremendous candor and vigor . . . a book that is impossible to forget."—Aminatta Forna, author of The Hired Man

"An outrageously brave and anguished heart disgorging the never-inert legacies of colonialism."—Bob Shacochis, author of The Woman Who Lost Her Soul

Product Details

Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
5.08(w) x 7.93(h) x 1.03(d)
Age Range:
18 - 17 Years

Meet the Author

Aidan Hartley was born in 1965 and brought up in East Africa. He read English at Oxford and studied politics at London University. He joined Reuters as a foreign correspondent and worked in the Balkans, the Middle East, and Russia. He now writes a column for the Spectator (UK). He lives with his family in Kenya.

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Zanzibar Chest 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 10 reviews.
letters2myAuthors More than 1 year ago
Dear, Aidan Hartley Hello, my name is Daniel Burston and I am current student at Baltimore School for the Arts. I am a senior who was recently required to read an African themed book over the summer for Summer Reading. Looking through multiple books attempting to find the most interesting book for me, I stumbled upon The Zanzibar Chest: The Story of Life, Love and Death in a Foreign Land. I enjoyed this book and its ability to take me to the past and experience everything that the main character seen, felt, and lived through. With the uses of poetic phrases to shape the story line, and describing the atmosphere of every setting to paint a picture for the Audience was the most elaborate and incredibly peculiar part of the book. Your book has given me so much insight on Africa and its culture, by your traveling back and forth from Africa and shedding light on the war and suffering that Africa has been through. The description of your younger living gave so many example of Africa living, “Woe to the land shadowing with wings, which is beyond the rivers of Ethiopia…Go ye swift messengers, to a nation scattered and peeled, to a people terrible from their beginning hitherto; a nation meted out and trodden down.” (Hartley pg.9) You talk about the struggle of contact with in the land, and the strong, brave messenger that has to travel near and far in this treacherous land. After you came the war made the land worst. “The camps lie broken down on hill and plain, Skulls, bones and horns remain, No shouts, no songs of fighting, or of love, but from the bare thorn tree above, so sadly calls the mourning dove… Was this your ravaged land, the work of God, or was it Man’s own hand?” The most important thing I could really relate to was the research of your father. Going through finding thing and item about you’re your father and his friend just to get to know him, to have a better connection, and image him with you. I often notice myself in various different books look for one person looking for the connection of me and them or the correlation with them give me rights and freedom. I search wanting to know how it was when they were in the mix, wondering what I would if I was present but all we have are symbols and words. I found a lot of differences in land and living that you have than I do. Africa was in war once you came back to where a land that was dying and not striving was being put in more damage. You struggled to travel and get around and even having a place to stay. In Maryland because we have a very different government we have rules and different environment set up for a lot of things to accessible to us like free transportation shelter and things to help us out. That where the lack of structure your country has different from us. In all this book was so excited and interesting to read a real challenge but not impossible, I enjoyed it; I would definitely give this 5 stars. Sincerely, Daniel Burston
Zolyd More than 1 year ago
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.
kagardner More than 1 year ago
"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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The first 80 pages or so of Aidan Hartley's book are the best personal account I have read of British Colonialism, as he details his family's service to Empire. The book loses direction and power when Hartley leaves the family history and wanders into a narcissistic account of his own drug-fueled life as a journalist. But then it's all about me, is it not, for him and everyone else.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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 !