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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.
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.