A deeply affecting memoir of family, childhood in Africa, and the continent's horrendous wars, which Hartley witnessed at first hand as a journalist in the 1990s.
‘We should never have come!’ so said Aidan Hartley's father in his final days, rising from a bed made of mountain cedar, lashed with thongs of rawhide from an oryx shot many years before. His words spoke of a colonial legacy that stretched back over 150 years through four generations of one British family. In The Zanzibar Chest, Hartley weaves together his family's history, his childhood in Africa and his accounts of the continent's horrendous wars, which he witnessed at first hand as a journalist in the 1990s.
Burnt out from a decade of horror, during which three of his close friends were torn to pieces by an angry mob in Somalia, Aidan retreats to his family's house in Kenya, where he discovers the Zanzibar chest containing the diaries of his father's best friend, Peter Davey, an Englishman who died under mysterious circumstances more than fifty years earlier. Tucking the papers under his arm, Hartley embarks on a journey to southern Arabia in an effort not only to unlock the secrets of Davey's life, but of his own. Travelling to the remote deserts where his father served as a British officer, Aidan begins to piece together the disparate elements of Davey's story, a man who fell in love with an Arabian woman and converted to Islam, but ultimately had to pay an exacting price.
At once a modern and a historic love story, The Zanzibar Chest is also an epic narrative charting the fates of men and women who embraced and were ultimately transformed by foreign lands.
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‘A masterpiece.This is a hugely ambitious book, a history of his family’s involvement with Africa over 70 years … riveting.’ Matthew Leeming, The Spectator
‘He captures brilliantly the voracity of the global media and is only too aware of his own role in ‘feeding the beast’. The life of war correspondent is well chronicled: fear, disgust and adrenaline pervade Hartley’s writing as he describes their doings…he leaves the reader with a mesmerising portrait of his beloved Africa’s unhappy squalor.’ Charlie Campbell, Time Out
‘A powerful blend of family history and war correspondent’s memoir…searing, deeply instructive memoir.’Anthony Daniels, Sunday Telegraph
'A lyrical, passionate memoir of this dark continent. On the surface, Hartley's book professes to explore why his father and so many other Englishmen of his generation turned time and time again to Africa. Its real aim is far more ambitious: to explore the motives of many generations of white people – good and bad, but mostly confused – who have washed up on Africa's wilder shores of love. His judgement of the foreign politicians who have involved themselves in the continent is tough without being hysterical. And he has a sure pen for character… he writes best about the dichotemies within himself – his ache for Africa, his rage at its horrors, his longing for peace' The Economist
‘Aidan Hartley's heartbreaking love affair with Africa shines through in this stunning memoir…the result is a breathtaking work, an epic part-autobiography, part-biography. As he unravels Davey's story, Hartley turns out passages of aching beauty which will invite comparisons with that other desert love story, Michael Ondaatje's The English Patient. Hartley's engagement with his central character is so rich in detail and affection that the pages slip by far too fast.' The ScotsmanFrom the Publisher:
Aidan Hartley is a brilliant young writer in the style of award-winners Dalrymple, Maclean and Marsden.
* Shortlisted for the prestigious Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-fiction.
* This book is a spiritual memoir, a fascinating travel journal and a work of riveting history - a non fiction The English Patient.
* Includes an informative and fascinating PS section with an author profile and essay by Hartley's fellow journalist in Africa, Johnathan Clayton.
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