The Zanzibar Chest: A Memoir Of Love And War
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The Zanzibar Chest: A Memoir Of Love And War

4.01 of 5 stars 4.01  ·  rating details  ·  1,326 ratings  ·  147 reviews
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 collisi...more
Hardcover
Published July 21st 2003 by HarperCollins (first published 2003)
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Sharon W.
To be completely honest, Aiden Hartley, although I envy his travels, is a pompous prick. he wanders around Africa pretending that it is his, and yet knows nothing of the people he lives "with." He hangs out with white people in white bars, and is essentially a whiny ex-pat child even though he was born in Kenya.

And then Ex-pats (of every culture) wonder why everyone hates them; It's because of people like Aiden Hartley.
Michael Flanagan
The author delivers a book that will stay with me long after the last page is turned. One quarter travelogue, another family history and the other half memoirs the author shows us Africa in all it's brutality and sadness. Not what I was expecting but an essential read to remind us what we should not forget.
orsodimondo
LA GRANDE DELUSIONE
Una storia bellissima fatta di tante storie, tutte belle.
Hartley è un inglese nato in Kenia, cresciuto in Africa, un mzungu che ha studiato in Inghilterra, giovane reporter per l’agenzia Reuters.
Ama il continente africano, lo conosce, lo gira e rigira. Da giornalista è sul campo a raccontare e testimoniare le crisi economiche umanitarie e militari più importanti degli ultimi due decenni.

La sua famiglia ha alle spalle due secoli di storia coloniale in tutti i continenti, fra...more
Tom
In the first 20 or so pages I was grumbling as I found myself drowning in adjectives. Though, as Hartley hits his stride, the prose loses the overwritten feel and develops into a very fine book.

I'm not sure he needed the device of 'the Zanzibar chest' as a framing tool. It's almost insecurity. Almost like he didn't think the true stories of an intrepid reporter in the middle of the worst of the worst atrocities in Mogadishu and Rwanda would hold the reader's interest so he needed to spice it up...more
Mattie
In many ways, this is a 5-star book. Horrifying, inspiring, bloody, real. Once I got sucked in, I wanted to read this book every. single. minute. and at the same time toss aside my peaceful, happy life and do what I already knew that I wanted to do. For me, reading this book was both utterly absorbing and incredibly painful: how could I bear to sit and read when there is SO MUCH going on out there? (Out there, you know, the greater world, adventure, war, sex-drugs-and-rock-and-roll: that familia...more
Tariq Mahmood
Classic, absolutely classic memoir of a very fulfilled life. Part of the narrative was as good as the 'Heart of Darkness'. What a story, kept me captivated and engaged throughout the 440 odd pages. For me the most interesting aspect was the self reflection of the White colonisation of Africa. I tend to agree with Hartley's dad. They should have never gone into Africa. Whence gone in they should never have left it. Arabs colonised Africa before the Europeans, and they stayed on, slowly converting...more
Foster
While the first 100 pages or so were hard to get through due to the boasting tone Hartley took as he listed off all of his adventurous British ancestors, this changed as he began writing about his own experiences as a reporter in Africa. His account of this time was amplified due to him being witness to (or involved in) every major conflict to grip Africa in the late 80s and 90s. Ethiopa, Rwanda, Somalia - they are all here and in a vivid detail I had not encountered before.

What makes Hartley's...more
Babak Fakhamzadeh
Hartley has written something of a memoir of himself and his family. Truth be told, his family history is quite interesting, filled with individuals occupying important roles in Britain's colonial history. Hartley himself, who was born and grew up in East Africa, became a journalist and the book is like personal therapy to come to terms with the the death of his father and the violence he was faced with while working in (mostly) African warzones.

The book is interesting, but not nearly as good a...more
Simon K
Raw - Modern War Torn Africa thru the eyes of a desperately irresponsible, selfish, careless...but passionate, exciting, challenging Reuters journalist
Beth
I thought that this would be a biography of the author's life in Africa, and his observations of the continent. In many ways it was. However, tied up in this book is the story of his parents, his father's long dead friend Peter Davey, and his time in other places (the Balkans, England, the Middle East). It is rambling, eclectic and scattered story. It is also full of disturbing details of what the author saw in the conflicts that he reported on. I found his experience in the Rwandan genocide to...more
Cherop
I originally started reading this book just over a year ago and put it aside as I got busy. I decided to start over again so I could follow the entire story from beginning to end.

So far it is a rather bleak book in the sense of being about the author's recollections of war and what seems like a dismal life in different parts of Africa. To the author however, Africa is home and is not so dismal as it may be to a foreigner. To him Africa is where he was born. It holds many precious memories, fami...more
Suzanne
While this book wasn’t what I was expecting, I want to declare right at the outset that it was REALLY REALLY GOOD! The author, Aidan Hartley, is a journalist and The Zanzibar Chest is his memoir of his childhood, being born and raised in Tanzania, and also the years of his 20′s and 30′s, when he was war correspondent in Africa. The son of a British military colonial, Aidan’s family had a rich history of living the ex-pat life. Weaving in tales of his father’s life in Africa, Aidan Hartley narrat...more
Kiwiflora
If you just took a moment to think about the devastation wrought on Africa since the white man landed on its vast coastlines, you would weep. Britain, Italy, Germany, France, Portugal, Russia, America, Spain, Turkey: they have all left their indelible and catastrophic mark on the continent. Once these countries have wrought their havoc, bled the place dry of its resources, its people and its essence they leave. And really in our little Western worlds we think very little and very infrequently of...more
Francie Effler
Hartley greatly portrayed the scope of Africa from an objective point of view. During the first part of the book, it seems as though Hartley is "gushing" about his family's historic ties with Africa, especially his fathers. However, readers will come to realize that his father greatly impacted Africa in the mid 20th century by creating agricultural improvements for Africans.
Aiden Hartley's early years were taken up in London where he constantly felt he did not fit in properly with other kids....more
Mary
I picked this up at NBO airport on my way to Zanzibar, having heard a few good things about it. The first disappointment was that it was not about Zanzibar, which could have been avoided if I'd found out a little more about the book before sitting down with it on the beach. I didn't love it.

This is really two books in one, which is what I've averaged together for three stars (I think I'd like to give it 2.5 but won't). I didn't think the two halves really meshed well together. The most important...more
Molly
Nov 01, 2007 Molly rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Masochists and those with any interest in Africa
This is probably one of the best books I've ever read. It is one of the few books that has made me cry (in an airport bar! I had to abadon my draft Flat Tire :-(

I was in a bookstore in Tanzania and overwhelmed by the fantastic selection of African non-fiction, I asked the Tanzanian staff to point out the one book I couldn't walk away without. They chose this one.

This book takes you through the incredible recent history of East Africa/parts of the Middle East through the stories of the author, a...more
Brendan
It's very hard for me to write about this book (which it why I'll give it a shot), as it's all a little too close to home, and any attempt to review this book will be more about just reviewing myself (and who wants to read that)?

This is a book both shallow and deep, meaningless and profound. The mixture of nostalgia and irritation that I feel with the writer, his reminiscences, and his lifestyle are of course directly linked to my feelings about my own career and life choices. I'm surprised - an...more
Alan
Most of the book takes place in Africa (war-torn Somalia, famine-stricken Ethiopia, the blood bath of Rwanda’s genocide, post-independence socialist Tanzania, etc), but he spends some time developing the story of his father’s career in service of the crown. I get the feeling that his father was unlike the stereotypical colonialist. From the stories, he was a man who effortlessly integrated with the local people and strove to understand their traditions, speak their languages, and help them solve...more
Ian
There is a fair amount of reportage in this book, much of it harrowing although delivered with the nonchalance and detatchment of the war reporter, and yet one detects that the thick skin is somewhat cosmetic, self protective and indeed in due course it falls away. It is Hartley's inate love and empathy with Africa and Africans, and a hard earned camerarderie with the various hacks and rhino skinned media folk he falls in with, which lifts the writing above that of straight documentary. Whilst t...more
Emily Alp
This is a story for someone who may need to experience stress vicariously through someone else. Don't laugh -- we all need to do this once in a while. Especially if you are someone like me who needs a certain degree of ground beneath my feet (routine, apartment with things in place, a general sense of security, etc.) but who also craves a healthy amount of chaos and edginess in life. I need this fix at least once a year and Hartley gave me a fair share. Not to mention that I read this while livi...more
Joe
This is one of the most remarkable books I've read about the experience of the world-straddling European postcolonial in Africa, a story that spans generations. Aidan Hartley, who covered most of the African conflicts you've heard of from the mid-80s to the mid-90s, seems to feel forever in the shadow of his mighty father (and really, what son doesn't?), a colonial officer turned rancher and a man of action and adventure. And yet, few have led a more adventurous life than Hartley himself, from t...more
Tucker
It has been a while since I read about 'the dark continent,' and Aidan Hartley certainly loves his Africa. The author poetically interweaves his own story as an African and war correspondent and then the life of his father's friend, a British bureaucrat in Arabia. Though the story is occasionally disconnected and the prose is sometimes confusing from an inundation of exotic African descriptions, that is not the point of the book. The most important quality of this book is its ability to frankly...more
Jane Spencer
Aidan Hartley grew up in Kenya and Tanzania, the son of British settlers. His deep love for Africa led him to return there after completing university in England. In the first part of the book, we relive his pleasant boyhood memories, then we are brutally catapulted into his years as a war journalist for Reuters News. Hartley lived to get "the story" . He relates his experiences in war-torn Somalia and Rwanda where he witnessed post-colonial interference, corruption, tribal warfare and famine. H...more
Jc
This book is a bit disjointed as the autor alternates between his biography and the life of his father’s friend some 50 years earlier. The biography part is dominated by the description of the horrifying massacres that took place in Somalia and Rwanda. AD seems to delight in the graphic and lengthy description of the slaughterings that took place. He clearly was during his Reuter’s years a nutty junky who was getting a high from being in that environment. Like his father and ancestors he feels h...more
Lindsay
Mar 11, 2008 Lindsay rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Lindsay by: Katie Ricketts
I read this book toward the end of my trip in Tanzania and Kenya. It seemed to match up in every point in my trip. I was reading about the genocide in Rwanda while relaxing under banana trees and just imagining at any moment something like that happening to such a great place as Tanzania. I was reading about Somalia while sitting on the beach in Kenya, my camping mate talking about how he has gone to that same beach every summer and how in 1994 he could see the whole US Naval fleet on the horizo...more
Jim
Easily one of the most interesting and exciting books I have ever read. If you enjoy adventure and travel then pick this up. Aidan Hartley gives an amazing, yet sad, recount of his experience in East Africa as a Reuter's journalist during the 1990s. His job and love for breaking news take him to Rwanda, Somalia, Ethiopia and the Congo where he witnesses some of the world's worst atrocities. Hartley not only shares his own personal adventures, but he traces his family history in the region as wel...more
Deborah
Please read this book. I read it when I was in Kenya because I knew very little about African history or politics. While I've barely made a dent in understanding the complexities of that vast continent, this non-fiction book provided tremendous insight and information. It was horrifying in some parts, particularly the sections about Somalia and Rwanda. I'm embarrassed that I didn't know more about those country's histories.

The book is written by Aidan Hartley whose father served in the British...more
Elona
just some interesting things that my friends and I were also discussing with relation to Cambodia.

"the conflicts I have witnessed tell me most men are no different from the Serbs, Hutus or Somalis who became killers. Most of us are entirely capable of torching a village, executing men, raping, daughters and beating up grandmothers. As far as the killing of Jews or Armenians or Aboriginals goes most people barely need the incitement of their leaders. They engaged in it with enthusiasm. Hutus, if...more
Stacie
Aidan Hartley simultaneously tells his personal story of growing up and working in Africa while detailing the lives of his father and his father's good friend. After reading the journals of the two men -- kept for many years in his father's Zanzibar chest -- he embarks on a search for answers about their lives. Along the way, he examines the draw of Africa to so many British, the two men and his own fascination and love for the continent.

The most powerful parts of this story are Hartley's own, a...more
Casey
Absolutely crushing. Aidan Hartley details his career as a war correspondent covering stories from the Ethiopian civil war and Somalia to the brutal genocide in Rwanda. The accounts are often sickening and sometimes even funny, but as I continued reading, I realized that the story is just as much about Hartley himself - and how one copes with a life that's constantly in contact with the worst parts of humanity.

The narrative device - alternating between Hartley's own eye-witness accounts of repor...more
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“Lizzie and I arrived in the polluted heat of a London summer. We stood frozen at street corners as a blur of pedestrians burst out of the subways and spilled like ants down the pavements. The crowed bars, the expensive shops, the fashionable clothes - to me it all seemed a population rushing about to no avail...I stared at a huge poster of a woman in her underwear staring down at her own breasts. HELLO BOYS, she said. At the movies we witnessed sickening violence, except that this time we held tubs of popcorn between our legs and the gunfire and screams were broadcast in digital Dolby. We had escaped a skull on a battlefield, only to arrive in London, where office workers led lines of such tedium and plenty that they had to entertain themselves with all the f****** and killing on the big screen. So here then was the prosperous, democratic and civilized Western world. A place of washing machines, reality TV, Armani, frequent-flier miles, mortgages. And this is what the Africans are supposed to hope for, if they're lucky.” 4 likes
“We throw ourselves into the journey and when it's done, even while having learned that all experience involves the loss of something beloved, what is ledt in the residue of memory is love.” 3 likes
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