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Emergency Sex (And Other Desperate Measures): True Stories from a War Zone

4.02  ·  Rating Details  ·  2,605 Ratings  ·  279 Reviews
In the early 1990s three young people attracted to the ambitious global peacekeeping work of the UN cross paths in Cambodia. Andrew strives for a better world through his life-saving work as a doctor. Heidi, a social worker, is in need of a challenge and a paycheck, and Ken is fresh from Harvard and brimful of idealism. As their stories interweave through the years, from R ...more
Paperback, 352 pages
Published February 3rd 2005 by Ebury Press (first published June 1st 2004)
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18th out of 135 books — 138 voters
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Community Reviews

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Mollie
Aug 15, 2007 Mollie rated it really liked it
Contrary to what the title suggests, this is not a funny, lewd book. The authors are UN staff, who in various circuitous ways, end up as a tight trio in Cambodia and serving in missions in Rwanda, Haiti and Liberia in particularly bloody, and probably avoidable, times. These are their personal accounts in journal-like entries that bounce from person to person.

The UN made a big stink about denouncing it because it was "unfairly" critical; the mainstream press and non-profit orgs got excited abou
...more
Marion Grace Woolley
I spent two years in Rwanda. In the Programme Office, one wall was devoted, floor-to-ceiling, to books that people had brought with them or received in aid parcels from home. Every now and then something so special would come along that people would literally write their names on a list to read it.

This was possibly the most widely read book of my time overseas. It tells the story of three American civilians who wind up working for the UN during one of their most volatile periods in history. It c
...more
Nathaniel
Jan 27, 2010 Nathaniel rated it liked it
Shelves: africa, nonfiction
During the long anticlimax of this book, when all three authors start writing their final reports, Ken summarizes their effort: “Collectively we experienced—maybe represent—all the exultation and catastrophe of a decade spent trying and failing to do well by doing good in a new world.” He and his role model Andrew can’t shake this tragic tone; instead, they use their respective religions to contextualize themselves as martyr heroes in a brutally flawed machine that converts youth, trust and idea ...more
Caitlin
Apr 12, 2009 Caitlin rated it liked it
Quick, entertaining read - but somehow I thought it'd be better. Good look at what it's like working for the UN/any horrible bureaucracy, but two of the three main characters were really annoying - one just fucks her way around the world because she can't get a real job back home, and another seems shocked to realise going to law school doesn't mean you have all the answers. I thought they'd come to some deeper realisation than 'oh wow, we can't really do much to help anyone maybe the UN isn't t ...more
Ken Deshaies
Nov 05, 2011 Ken Deshaies rated it it was amazing
Most of us learn about the more daring aspects of life through the news media, via gossip and through friendly conversation. It takes a rare breed to launch into learning where guts leads a truly inquisitive nature, where danger is the morning meal. The authors are three of those people. Unsettled or unhappy with just living out their professions at home, they each join the U.N. at a young age as volunteer peacekeepers. What follows is staccato learning, being thrust into situations where they f ...more
Elyssa
Oct 28, 2008 Elyssa rated it liked it
Shelves: memoir
Overall, this three person memoir was interesting, especially if you have wondered what it is like to be a humanitarian aid worker for the UN. I was disheartened by the inefficacy of the UN and its missions and I am glad the authors were honest about the realities and limitations of the UN.

The reason I am giving this book 3 stars is because I felt most of the writing was weak. One of the narrators (Ken) was quite melodramatic and, at times, seemed to romanticize the events. Heidi, who appears t
...more
Cathrin
May 06, 2016 Cathrin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: english, non-fiction, 2016
Drei junge UN-Mitarbeiter (jung, unter 30 nämlich, zumindest zum Zeitpunkt der beschriebenen Ereignisse) berichten von ihren (wahren) Erlebnissen in verschiedenen Krisenzonen der Welt Anfang der 90er Jahre. Der kalte Krieg war vorbei, die UN und die USA sahen die Chance eine neue Weltordnung herzustellen und Demokratie zu exportieren - mit durchwachsenem Erfolg. Kambodscha, Haiti, Somalia, Ruanda, Jugoslawien, das sind die Schauplätze, von denen die Autoren aus erster Hand berichten. Anfänglich ...more
Anthony
Jul 10, 2007 Anthony rated it really liked it
Incredible. Three UN aid workers - one trained as a lawyer at Harvard, a doctor from New Zealand, and a divorcee from New York and homeless shelter worker - pen their memories of life on the front lines of conflict zones in the 90's. The book starts in Cambodia, where Dr. Andrew has been providing medical care for victims of the Khmer Rouge's reign of terror, and the first mission for Ken and Heidi as UN peacekeeper staff. The book follows them through Haiti, Rwanda, Bosnia, Liberia, and Ethiopi ...more
Deborah Nicol
This would have been a far more interesting read if it had just focused on Andrew's story. I'm honestly not sure why the other two got into humanitarian careers, as they only seem interested in bragging rights for tough locations but show little respect or interest for the people living there. Kenneth gets enraged about bureaucracy but suggests few solutions, Heidi seems to be constantly on the lookout for her next bed buddy, and only Andrew appears to actually make connections with the people h ...more
Geraldine
Apr 24, 2010 Geraldine rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Gripping, honest stories from three UN workers who met in Cambodia, where they assisted in monitoring a successful election in 1993. They spent the next seven years unsuccessfully trying to recapture that experience in Somalia, Haiti, Rwanda, and Liberia--sometimes together, but more often spread across the globe. Unflinching, very critical of the UN, and fascinating even if the writing is not always fabulous. A reminder for those of us who grew up in the 1990s and tend to think of the pre-9/11 ...more
Juliet
Nov 09, 2008 Juliet rated it it was ok
I thought this was a well-done story but it's interesting how one of its inherent traits is a self-absorption (necessary for the work these people do) that winds up being a turn-off. It's an interesting internal debate: on the one hand, to really admire and be thankful for these people doing work that I doubt I would have the stomach to do; and on the other hand, to be so annoyed by their narcissism (especially Heidi's - good grief). In the end, I am glad I read it but I don't think I'd like to ...more
Sarah Nosworthy
Nov 22, 2015 Sarah Nosworthy rated it really liked it
How do you rate who well a book shares such horrific things? Not one of the three set out to be authors, but to do good work, however they sought to do it (lawyer, social worker/secretary, doctor). Not one of the jobs would you wish on your enemy, it's work of saints, and it's demoralising, cause there is never a right decision. Geopolitics are not simple. Ken nor Heidi can offer solutions - and reviewers are far less equipped to critique them on this fact!

What I learnt with the timeline of the
...more
Jeffrey Otto
Apr 09, 2011 Jeffrey Otto rated it liked it
Ken Cain, Heidi Postlewait, and Dr. Andrew Thomson have given their readers a realistic account of something most will never have to see with their own eyes, let alone experience in person. From Nigerian soldiers murdering nine year old sex workers in Liberia before decapitating them and placing their severed heads inside their genitals to mass graves with thousands upon thousands of intertwined bodies in Rwanda to Scud missiles trailing across Israeli skies to pitched combat in the middle of a ...more
Noel
Jun 08, 2008 Noel rated it it was amazing
This was a fantastic read! I was hooked to it from the beginning and couldn't put it down. It was absolutley not as racy as the title implied. Following the authors from their entry into the UN world and following them on their missions, made me feel like I was there. It was a little hard stomach some of the details and I had to take breaks in between.

While it does showcase the inefficiencies of the UN and how it failed terribly in Rwanda, Bosnia, Somalia etc., it nonetheless brings out the pot
...more
Matthew
Feb 24, 2013 Matthew rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Absolutely my highest recommendation; the best book I've read this year (2008). The authors were UN Peacekeepers during the 1990s and into the early 2000s and these are their tales. If you are at all aware of the existence of other countries you should read this book. If you are a firebreathing conservative and think the UN should be shut down, you should read this book. If you are bleeding-heart liberal and think the UN should take over the world, you should read this book. If you think it matt ...more
Lavande
Three U.N. workers recount their experiences working overseas during pivotal international conflicts (including the genocides in Bosnia and Rwanda, political turmoil in Haiti, and the drive to establish the democratic vote in Cambodia). Despite one of the author's almost single-minded focus on sex (and a disturbing, almost colonial, habit of sleeping with as many "exotic" and "brown" locals as possible in her quest for feminine independence and social understanding -- there is a line in the book ...more
Sarah
Apr 30, 2015 Sarah rated it it was ok
Like a lot of other people I found the book interesting, informative and sad.

However, I also found Heidi patronising and annoying and very colonial. Also obsessed with shagging.

The title of the book is rubbish. Mostly the book is nothing to do with sex. (apart from Heidi's input.

As other's have noted it is the Australian Dr's story that is the most eloquent, cohesive and engaging - and he is the most likeable character.

worth reading, but not sure I would recommend.

There are other books out ther
...more
Robyn
Sep 25, 2015 Robyn rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
With idealism that could only come from youth, three young hopefuls step out into the unknown world in the hope that they will somehow make a difference. What develops in the following chapters is a brilliantly clever novel which truly captures the strengths and short comings of each friend.

Heidi comes from a social worker background and has fallen in love with life, and in love with the individuals that fill her life. Andrew is a Doctor who has already seen too much, and despite his conservativ
...more
Melinda
Jun 26, 2007 Melinda rated it really liked it
I just finished reading this book that my friend Sara passed on to me with extremely high recommendations. In this memoir written by three international workers for UN peacekeeping efforts, the friends take turns telling the stories of why they joined the UN effort, how they met, and the inside stories of the war-torn countries where they worked together. Funny, tragic, heartbreaking, irreverent and thrilling--I couldn't put it down.
Chinook
May 17, 2012 Chinook rated it really liked it
I picked this book up at my hostel in the Cameron Highlands and I'd bet it came from Cambodia - it was a photocopied book. It was also incredible. Three people, out to change the world, meet during a UN mission in Cambodia to supervise an election. From there, they travel to the hot spots of 1990s peacekeeping missions, slowly growing more disillusioned with the peacekeeping process. I found it education and entertaining.
Ginnybean
a book that make you realise that only the people and countries themselves can make peace and progress - and that if international help were to be provided, only those who has tangiable, technical skills, such as being a doctor or engineer can contribute to improving people's lives - others can perhaps be largely self-ego of aid workers being more in love with the idea of being the middle of conflict..
Laurie
Oct 17, 2014 Laurie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm about 2/3 of the way through. I can't say I like the authors a whole lot, but I will keep reading because I don't know much (or anything) about the conflicts they witnessed during their time with the UN. I DO like the way it's written: going from one voice to another to read their personal experiences.
Finished. The trio got a little less annoying. The stories got sadder. What are we doing?! How can people be so cruel? The young idealistic kids that join organizations to help are chewed up a
...more
Amanda
Dec 05, 2007 Amanda rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Overseas aid workers
This book is the true story of three UN peacekeepers and their expereinces through the 1990's. Working overseas my self for Peace Corps there are things I could totally relate to, but there were also lessons I have yet to learn that have made me think hard about my future.
Denise Louise
Nov 21, 2014 Denise Louise rated it really liked it
How do you keep your sanity working for the UN in impossible conditions, surrounded by death and fear, with minimal support and training? A doctor, a lawyer, and a social worker give it a try, with varying degrees of success and vastly different coping mechanisms. This book is their stories, told as diary entries about their day-to-day struggles to make a difference without getting killed. It's worth a read just to see how international policy often fails the people it's tasked with protecting. ...more
Jonathan
Sep 04, 2015 Jonathan rated it liked it
A look at a decade of UN interventions in the most violent places in the world. The three narrators are at times deeply compassionate, at times heroic, at times superficial. They answered a call that many have heard but few have stepped up to, and experienced many losses in the process. The stories are fast-paced and well-written, and have an intimacy and honesty that really make them worth reading.

Unfortunately, the great fault in the book is not in what is there, but in what is missing. All th
...more
Erin Bean
Mar 23, 2014 Erin Bean rated it it was amazing
This book was fantastic: inspiring, funny, heartbreaking, disheartening, raw…everything at once. The authors' three interwoven tales provides a piercing insiders view into aid work and the UN, while demonstrating how a decade spent in pursuit of a "New World Order" in war zones scattered across the globe changes one irrevocably. At times sharply critical of the UN and US foreign policy, it shows their transition from wide-eyed idealistic youth to more world-wise adults. Emergency Sex is engaging ...more
Von
Apr 03, 2013 Von rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
this is a joint collaboration of writing by a few people. The woman, you will be wishing to tear from the book, as it is her accounts,and actions that bring this book down, and lowers its impact, by making it cheap!.
Alina Apine
Jul 19, 2016 Alina Apine rated it really liked it
For anyone interested in global affairs, international humanitarian work, peacekeeping missions, the levels of fucked-upness of international organizations - this book is it. The book reads like a diary written by three people - one a doctor, a lawyer and a bureaucrat/secretary, who advances from that.

The book provides a realistic inside look into some of the most horrendous events of the 20th century- Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, Haiti, Liberia, Somalia. The book shows the cruelty of humankind and
...more
Heather
Jul 07, 2009 Heather rated it it was amazing
It sounds dirty (I giggled when Heather L told me about it) but it's one of the grittiest accounts of the personal cost of frontline aid work I've read - captivating. It should be a movie, it'd be brilliant.
Chanpheng
Aug 31, 2014 Chanpheng rated it really liked it
The story of the changes of three humanitarian aid workers, from naive idealists to people seasoned by realism; each person writes his/ her perspective of the events during the time periods. Although I've always worked with iNGOs, and never with the UN, I emphasize with many stages along the way. And while the friendships, outside of the trio, are often location-specific and temporary, they are intense and life-changing. I think this book might make someone think twice about humanitarian work, t ...more
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“I'm not ready to let the youthful part of myself go yet. If maturity means becoming a cynic, if you have to kill the part of yourself that is naive and romantic and idealistic - the part of you that you treasure most - to claim maturity, is it not better to die young but with your humanity intact?” 114 likes
“The problem is that no matter how good your intentions, eventually you want to kill someone yourself.” 23 likes
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