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How de Body?: One Man's Terrifying Journey through an African War [Paperback]

Teun Voeten
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Aug. 6 2002
In 1998, acclaimed photojournalist Teun Voeten headed to Sierra Leone for what he thought would be a standard assignment on the child soldiers there. But the cease-fire ended just as he arrived, and the clash between the military junta and the West African peace-keeping troops forced him to hide in the bush from rebels who were intent on killing him.

How de Body? ("how are you?" in Sierra Leone's Creole English) is a dramatic account of the conflict that has been raging in the country for nearly a decade-and how Voeten nearly became a casualty of it. Accessible and conversational, it's a look into the dangerous diamond trade that fuels the conflict, the legacy of war practices such as forced amputations, the tragic use of child soldiers, and more. The book is also a tribute to the people who never make the headlines: Eddy Smith, a BBC correspondent who eventually helps Voeten escape; Alfred Kanu, a school principal who risks his life to keep his students and teachers going amidst the bullets and raids; and Padre Victor, who runs a safe haven for ex-child soldiers; among others.

Featuring Voeten's stunning black-and-white photos from his multiple trips to the conflict area, How de Body? is a crucial testament to a relatively unknown tragedy.

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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

The title of this harrowing journey through war-torn Sierra Leone means how are you? in pidgin English; as photojournalist Voeten shows in his dramatic but incomplete work of war reportage, Sierra Leone isn't doing well and neither is he, after a 1998 trip there. On assignment to photograph child soldiers, Voeten finds himself in the midst of a war between a military junta and West African peacekeeping troops. After nearly being killed by a gun-toting teenager, he goes into hiding for two weeks: I feel like a fox running from hounds and curse the soldiers who won't give me a moment's peace. His disappearance makes him something of a cause celebre several of his colleagues are planning to mount a search and rescue but he's eventually able to leave the country. Yet that's just the beginning of Voeten's involvement with the impoverished African nation. Despite suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, he returns to Sierra Leone, and it is in recounting these times that the book weakens. Voeten doesn't delve beneath the surface of his interest in Sierra Leone; he fails to give readers even a basic history of the country or to reflect on what makes journalists willing to risk their lives to report from there. He also neglects to sufficiently describe his PTSD or how his multiple returns to Sierra Leone affect it. By not answering these questions, Voeten ends up with merely a frightening travelogue of a depressing country and one inelegantly written at that. The photos, which may be the book's highlight, were not seen by PW.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Voeten, an acclaimed photojournalist, writes about the ferocity of the eight-year civil war in Sierra Leone, a former British colony in West Africa. Once referred to as "The White Man's Grave," it is a country endowed with very hospitable people and mineral wealth gold, silver, and, in particular, diamonds, which "literally lie there waiting to be picked up." The abundance of diamonds has sown greed among the major ethnic groups and has also attracted an international consortium of criminals, arms dealers, mercenaries, and drug barons. Control of these diamonds is the cause and fuel of the war. Voeten was sent to cover the use of child soldiers by the rebels and in the process got caught in the middle of the warring factions and almost lost his life. He has covered many civil wars in other places, and references and comparisons are constantly made to other war-torn countries. Thousands of children were kidnapped by the rebels and conscripted as soldiers, bearers, and cannon fodder. Special amputation squads hacked off arms, hands, or legs to sow terror and avenge the rebels' defeat. Such mass amputations were compared to those done by Belgian colonizers in the former Congo. Throughout How De Body? ("How are you?" in pidgin English), Voeten, relief workers, missionaries, and human rights activists ruminate on the extent of savagery during the eight-year period. Voeten is also fascinated by the courage, strength, and hospitality of Sierra Leoneans. The author, however, exposes his own biases by using words such as natives, thick lips, bastards, fat, and the like in the first chapter. Overall, this is a very interesting but depressing narrative of the atrocities of a civil war characterized by greed and wealth. Recommended for public libraries and those interested in African politics and civil wars in general. Edward G. McCormack, Cox Lib. & Media Ctr., Univ. of Southern Mississippi-Gulf Coast, Long Beach
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Customer Reviews

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Most helpful customer reviews
Format:Paperback
For people from Sierra Leone, this book verifies the stories and rumors that they have been hearing over the years. The excellent pictures speak for themselves. References are there so that the reader may continue to read more about the devastation of a people from a peaceful country. For those who don't know about the tragedy going on in West Africa, this book tells all.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Incomplete, conceited tale Feb. 10 2003
By Mike
Format:Paperback
While this book offers up a narrowly focused tale on Sierra Leone's civil war, Tuen Voeten's strained efforts to sound hip in the telling make this book one worth reading only if you're looking to see events from a different angle. Voeten's flagrent use of swear words (I wouldn't care about them if they added to the story) throughout the book seem to be an effort to sound like a cowboy on assingment instead of a professional journalist. Overall Voeten provides an easy to follow narrative about his experiences, but essentially no background on the events in Sierra Leone during the period of his times there.
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5.0 out of 5 stars True to life Feb. 2 2003
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
I recently visited the places Voeten speaks about in this book. He tells the truth about a beautiful people and a tragic land.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Fun and terror as a war reporter... Aug. 25 2002
Format:Paperback
a most amazing mix of humor, terror and intrigue. voten is charming and real. One of the best books in this genre ever!
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  10 reviews
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Poorly Written, Under-researched, Unbearable to Read July 5 2006
By Marg - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This may not be a legitimate review because I did not finish the book-I did not even get close. I got to about page 20 before I just couldn't stand it anymore. After researching the Sierra Leonean civil war extensively (specifically the child soldiers, which Voeten, in Chapter 2, states is his reason for going to Sierra Leone) for two years and writing a dissertation on it, I am always interested in what others write about the topic. I have three major objections to How De Body. First, I doubt the extent of Voeten's background research. For example, his opinion of Foday Sankoh (the rebel leader) is crude and too simple for Sankoh's complex character and even his national reputation. (p 7). Certainly, Voeten learned invaluable information regarding the civil war, the Sierra Leonean people, etc. while in Sierra Leone. Yet, grassroots interactions, particularly limited ones, are subject to bias and therefore must be coupled with research and analysis (whether it makes it to the published draft or simply used as a foundation for the writer) to equate to an intelligent assessment of something as complex as a civil war; just as background research requires grassroots interactions for accuracy as well. (I would have assumed Voeten, a professional journalist, would know that, but I guess not.) Second, Voeten writes with a prestigious, Eurocentric (and unpolished, unintelligent) voice. While entering Sierra Leone, he is surprised that the immigration officials did not steal money from him and even acted gentlemanly (p 10-11). He decides that their behavior is certainly evidence that the English once ruled the region (p 11). I do not feel the need to explain my repulsions to that statement. Third, Voeten makes generalizations that are by no means universal. For example, he states that "Countries neighboring on war zones...are, without exception, corrupt and tedious and inhabited by pushy, spoiled, badly dressed, grabby, and rowdy natives" (p 5). (For further objections to this statement see my first two points.) To remain within the West African region, I point to Ghana as a counterexample. Cote d'Ivoire is currently in a violent civil war and while I lived in neighboring Ghana a few months ago, I met and worked with many Ghanaians who were kind and properly dressed (better than me), and the government and economy are among the most stable in all of Africa. I can only assume that I would have further objections to How De Body has I been able to read more.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Incomplete, conceited tale Feb. 9 2003
By Mike - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
While this book offers up a narrowly focused tale on Sierra Leone's civil war, Tuen Voeten's strained efforts to sound hip in the telling make this book one worth reading only if you're looking to see events from a different angle. Voeten's flagrent use of swear words (I wouldn't care about them if they added to the story) throughout the book seem to be an effort to sound like a cowboy on assingment instead of a professional journalist. Overall Voeten provides an easy to follow narrative about his experiences, but essentially no background on the events in Sierra Leone during the period of his times there.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Highly interesting, gripping and realistic Aug. 24 2005
By Pieter Franken - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This book is definitely to be recommended for people interested in modern Africa and journalism. It tells the gripping tale of a Dutch (or Belgian?) journalist caught in the middle of the civil war in Sierra Leone. Don't hesitate just buy and enjoy!!

Pieter
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars You are there, in Sierra Leone, during the past ten years. May 20 2003
By Pauline George - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
For people from Sierra Leone, this book verifies the stories and rumors that they have been hearing over the years. The excellent pictures speak for themselves. References are there so that the reader may continue to read more about the devastation of a people from a peaceful country. For those who don't know about the tragedy going on in West Africa, this book tells all.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Dutch Journalist account of the terror of the RUF. May 18 2008
By Kevin M Quigg - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This is my fourth book about the terrors of the RUF. These were ugly people trying to overthrow the legitimate government of Sierra Leone. The RUF killed white people, anybody that disagreed with them, and kidnapped young people to place in their army. They were supported by the likes of Charles Taylor of Liberia and Colonel Quaddafi of Libya. No wonder these were killers who didn;t care a dang about the people they were supposedly liberating. The RUF also engaged in a terrorist act of chopping people's hands/legs/nose/ears off, to show they meant business.

The author Voeten spent a terrible two to three weeks of hiding from these killers in 1998. A kind educated rural family protected him rather than turn him over to the RUF. The author recounts his stories of those that lost their lives in the Civil War. There are no bright shining heroes in this book. The legitimate government is shown as corrupt. The ECOMEG forces are shown as brutal and corrupt also. The NGOs serving Sierre Leone are also shown as having their own agenda. The journalists flock to these failed states to make a buck off the conflict.

This is a interesting account of the Sierra Leone Civil War. It is one man's perspective, but it details a history of the conflict.
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