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Emma's War

3.8 of 5 stars 3.80  ·  rating details  ·  1,067 ratings  ·  126 reviews
Tall, striking, and adventurous to a fault, young British relief worker Emma McCune came to Sudan determined to make a difference in a country decimated by the longest-running civil war in Africa. She became a near legend in the bullet-scarred, famine-ridden country, but her eventual marriage to a rebel warlord made international headlines—and spelled disastrous consequenc ...more
Paperback, 416 pages
Published February 10th 2004 by Vintage (first published 2002)
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Community Reviews

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Chris
I am always acutely aware of all that I don’t know and rarely feel informed enough to comment on anything. However, Scroggins does such an excellent job of painting the history and politics of Sudan that I actually feel like I know something about the Country. She uses Emma McCune’s life as a sort of sausage casing , in which she stuffs the famine, tribal warfare, religious ferocity,intervention and interruptions of the west, politics of funding wars, chase for black gold, race and racism, slave ...more
Lara
As an aid worker currently in Sudan, I just had to grab this book. The story of Emma is not actually what is central to the book. It's almost as if she and her marriage to "a war lord" is some skeleton holding together the true story, the story of The Sudan. That being said, it's all very well written, very informative, and for someone currently in the context (and are you ready for a shocker?) the people, the places, and the feeling for those in aid to Sudan is VERY similar to how it is now. Ma ...more
Lindsey
part history of sudan, with a focus on the late 80s/early 90s period of the civil war, part exploration of the complexities of the aid business. i found this book to be digestible in part because scroggins does such a great job establishing context and bringing to life the vast web of personalities entwined within this story. i was hesitant when i picked this up because i was afraid that it would be emma's story first and sudan's second. emma merely provides a thread that runs through a much lar ...more
G. Kretchmer
Emma's War is part journalistic nonfiction, part biography, part memoir. In its function as a distant discussion of the Sudanese civil war that's been raging for decades, it did a fine job. As an American, I don't usually understand clearly the many layers of strife that underlie conflict in distant lands and cultures, and Ms. Scroggins attempted to explain what is both complex and somewhat inexplicable. I now have a much better understanding of the religious and tribal animosities in that land, ...more
Heron
I read this book while serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Ukraine. The author uses the life of the title character to exam the true impact of humanitarian aid organizations on the world's crises. Emma is a white, middle class, directionless woman who ends up finding 'herself' as an aid worker in Sudan. She is continually pulled by almost fanatic urges to do 'good' in the world, but often confused as to how she should enact this change. The helplessness of the Sudan crisis is overwhelming next ...more
Kristin
I absolutely loved this book! I read it in two days! The author's ability to weave in the history of the conflict in the Sudan (conflict b/w the north and south and since the 1950s)with her travel there as a journalist in the late 1980s/early 90s covering famine with that of Emma McClune, a British Aid Worker, who marries a war lord, is remarkable and makes for a story that's hard to put down. She truely is a talented writer who makes reading history (which even I mostly find boring- not because ...more
Razz
423 pages about the warring tribes in The Sudan. Most of the book was the history of the Islamic North vs the Christians and tribes of the South. Fascinating but hard to take all in in one reading because of so much history and so many tribes and areas in Sudan. It was also about a young Englishwoman, working for the U.N.who falls in love and marries one of the tribal leaders of the South. Because the book was written by an Atlanta based reporter, it was somewhat balanced and no one came out loo ...more
Heather
I read Emma's War in a couple of days. The story is a disturbing one and I guess I wanted it over quickly, like ripping a Band-aid off to minimize the pain. Deborah Scroggins does an excellent job of summarizing the hugely complicated issue of civil wars in Sudan. Into the story of people fighting over religious, linguistic, monetary, ethnic and other differences, she weaves her own experiences and the personal story of Emma McCune.

Emma was an idealistic young British woman who was fascinated b
...more
Robert
Unforgettable book. The author has written a fascinating biography of a young English aid worker, doomed by her passion for Africa. Has used this life story as the framework for an emotionally gripping, detailed history of the Sudanese Civil War. And has used it also to illuminate the inadequacy of Western assistance, its problematic complicity in evil, in providing food and medical aid to the Sudanese. The author takes the reader on a horrendous journey through hell. Any reader making this jour ...more
Rachel
Wow! This was an amazing analysis and exploration of the civil war, tribal wars, and the aid industry's influence-responsibility on the actions of war and government leaders in Sudan. The book could have been a dull recap of the South's struggle for independence, sovereignty,or whatever else people were (are) fighting for (like cows, slaves, oil, ....), but instead Scroggins uses the Emma's life as the backdrop to unfold the story. Even if you are not a fan (poor choice of words) of Sudan, this ...more
Zigra
This book taught me a lot about the recent conflicts in the Sudan, for which I am grateful. The author, who spent time reporting in Sudan and actually met Emma, throws her opinions too much into the story - her own infatuation with Emma's beauty and her criticism of most all the aid workers were especially bothersome to me. The real story is the Sudan, not some head-in-the-clouds English woman whose initial seemingly good intentions to help kids in the Sudan soon became overshadowed by her lust ...more
Laura
There are three facets to Deborah Scoggin's book: her own experience as a reporter in the Sudan (and later Somalia), a history of the long-term civil wr in the Sudan particularly in the 1980s and 1990s, and a biography of British aid worker Emma McCune, who married Sudanese rebel warlord Riek Machar and became his political partner in the ongoing civil war. While I found the book quite interesting, each facet has its problems. The history is very dense, full of detail and agency acronyms (there ...more
Danna
Excellent book. I loved the way the author wove her own journalistic experience in Sudan with Sudan's history and Emma's life story. A reality check about the politics of war, famine, oil, and foreign aid in the horn of Africa.
Lapolley
Jul 27, 2010 Lapolley is currently reading it
REALLY enjoying the historical, political and geographical parts of this book.
Katherine
Scroggins’s work, Emma’s War, traces the life of Emma McCune and the various civil wars that took place in the Sudan during the 1980s. Scroggins also writes about her own experience as a journalist investigating and writing about the civil unrest in the Sudan as well as her own limited interactions with Emma McCune. McCune, a young woman from England, came to Sudan to help the children who were the victims of the wars there. While working there, McCune met and married a Sudanese warlord, a deci ...more
Oliver
An interesting read about an aid worker "gone rogue" who marries Riek Machar, a rebel leader and the future vice president of South Sudan (until recently when Salva Kiir fired his whole cabinet, but that's another story). Anyway, really raises the question of whether aid workers are helping or hurting when they go into the field, in that they are often blinded by their own biases, love, or motives. At the end of the book, you have to ask how much/if at all Emma actually helped.

While this is not
...more
Mayaluna
I found value in this book for its reportage from the horn of Africa in the 80’s and early 90’s. I was also interested in reading the author’s perspective of the Sudanese civil wars, as there isn’t that much out there on the topic that is easily digestible. Scroggins does a good job of explaining some of the geo-political and ethnic dimensions that led to strife in the country. I appreciated her examination of the events surrounding the oil finds, the practice of Arab slavery over the blacks, th ...more
David
I know what you're thinking - a book about Sudan, what a downer. But as much as this is a book about Sudan (pre-Darfur genocide, actually, which taught me a lot about the history that led up to what we see today), Emma's War is actually more about Western aid workers - their passions, their hypocrises, their lifestyle, and the dangers they face. Although the focal point is Emma, a British relief worker who becomes equal parts Eva Peron and Colonel Kurtz when she "goes native" and marries an SLA ...more
benebean
So it seems like a lot of people see this book as a documentation of the failure of aide in Africa and that is certainly one way to view it. But I like to think of it more as a prequel or an introduction to the history of the West's interactions with the world from which 9/11 was conceived and carried out.

My one gripe about this book is the author occasionally criticizes the west's overall actions without offering an alternative that would have been better when no such action is obvious. Yes the
...more
Richard
My cousin recommended this when I mentioned my admiration of Mountains Beyond Mountains. Emma is no Paul Farmer, but she is a fascinating person none the less. Deborah Scroggins, the author, uses this British woman to hook us on an an analysis of what is now Suddan. It is the first time I feel as if I've really understood what is/has happened there. But as in really good books, you come away from this difficult read with more understandings of the West, of Africa, of humanitarian 'aid,' greed, i ...more
Nicholas Whyte
"http://nwhyte.livejournal.com/1263632.html?#cutid3[return][return]Emma McCune was the daughter of colonial parents, kicked out of India in the 1960s. They split up and her father committed suicide; Emma grew up with that missionary zeal which one sometimes encounters, to make the world a better place regardless of the personal consequences. [return][return]A lot of Scroggins' narrative isn't actually about Emma McCune, but about the horrors of the Sudanese conflict and the ensuing famine, which ...more
julia
Jul 22, 2007 julia rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in Sudan or international development
If you have any interest in the conflict in Darfur or international development, I would definitely recommend this book to you. I promise you won't be able to stop reading it.

There's enough history that you'll learn something but also enough romance to offer a bit of escapism. The main character is outrageous - enough at least that I just really couldn't get enough of her. Out of all the AID workers I've met in Africa and elsewhere, she definitely struck me as the most "out of the box." Not say
...more
Megan
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Aimee
Oct 30, 2007 Aimee rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people interested in Sudan's politics or African relief work
Scroggins weaves the story of Emma McCune (a lovely idealistic British national who came to Sudan as a relief worker), her own extensive experience as a journalist in northeastern Africa, and the history of Sudan to illustrate the West's failure to effect change in Sudan and other parts of Africa. Multiple Western governments, past and present, lacked an appreciation for the complexities of the region's politics, and of course Greed made an appearance or two. Scroggins' premise is that the vario ...more
Tim
This is a contender for the best book in my collection. It is moving and tragic, incisive and jam packed with information, a rich interweaved narrative and history written by a very talented wordsmith.

Emma’s War is ostensibly a biography of Emma McCune, an Englishwoman of an idealistic persuasion who developed a strong connection to the cause of the south Sudanese, which saw her become a passionate aid worker and later a partisan for the faction of her new Sudanese husband in the Sudanese civil
...more
Pa
It's an amazing book; at times it reads better than a novel. It's the story of a beautiful, passionate, spirited English woman, an aid worker, who threw herself into the thick of the Sudan's civil war where she found love and passion and compassion but all the same became deluded by the nature of the war and the politics of Africa. The author painted a fascinating and intimate portrait of her subject, at times quite critical. In fact, everyone emerged in this book was depicted with a very critic ...more
Elizabeth
'Emma's War" uses the story of Emma McCune (a white woman who, among other dumb decisions, married a Sudanese warlord before she was killed in a car accident in Nairobi) to explore the origins and complexity of the Sudanese civil war (N-S, not so much on Darfur), including the challenge and culture of the humanitarian and journalistic response. I found this to be a well-written and rather accessible look at a bloody complicated crisis - particularly its origins and the claims and goals of variou ...more
Greynomad
the history of the on going conflict in Sudan was good. Emma, now thats a different question altogether. If she was black would we even hear about her, me thinks not. I don't know what kind of dreamline she was working but initially it worked for her. Once she cross over and married Riek then her house of mirrors began to fade. I can't even imagine where Emma would be if she didn't have the accident and had the child as planned.
elizabeth
I was skeptical of this book, weary of the "white woman in Africa trope." But Scroggins won me over. Her deft account interweaves the story of Emma's romance with Sudan, personal narrative of her own experience as a journalist in the Horn, and compelling description of the fighting and complicated alliances in southern Sudan. The result is a nuanced and fascinating critique of humanitarian aide. One of those rare books where the personal narrative serves to make the analysis more complete. Her e ...more
FiveBooks
Author Dan Morrison has chosen to discuss Deborah Scroggins’s Emma’s War on FiveBooksas one of the top five on his subject – The Nile, saying that:

“…It’s a great read and extremely informative about Sudan’s civil war. Scroggins’s vehicle for talking about the war is a British aid worker, Emma McCune, who married a rebel warlord in south Sudan…”

The full interview is available here: http://thebrowser.com/books/interviews/dan-morrison
...more
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American writer and journalist, author of Emma's war: An Aid Worker, Radical Islam and the Politics of Oil - A True Story of Love and Death in the Sudan.
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