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Home Uncategorized Working in the Dark

Working in the Dark

Carol Taaffe
Not Untrue and Not Unkind, Ed O’Loughlin, Penguin, pp 288, £12.99, ISBN: 978-1844881857 Journalism and fiction tend to be mutually opposing forces: one disdains the taint of the other. But Ryszard Kapuscinski, the Polish journalist who reported from the frontlines of Africa during the upheavals of decolonisation, managed one kind of compromise between them. First dispatched to Africa in 1957 with little in the way of financial support, he produced a series of books that traced his lived experience of the continent as it underwent its cruel and difficult transformations. The genre he helped to develop he described as “literary reportage”: “Without trying to enter other ways of looking, perceiving, describing, we won’t understand anything of the world.” But having spent years travelling across Africa in the wake of coups and revolutions, he once remarked that he had met not one foreign writer along the trail. Where were they, while history was in the making? Back in Europe writing “little domestic stories”. So much of modern literature, he complained in 1987, was “never caught actually looking out at the world”. But that was over twenty years ago, and the world has been slowly pressing in. Over the last decade there has been a steady stream of literature which jumps the picket fence. While a new generation of African writers, such as the Nigerian Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, have been offering much needed perspective on the continent’s civil wars, in 1998 both Ronan Bennett’s The Catastrophist and Giles Foden’s The Last King of Scotland provided views of an African conflict through European eyes. But it is Dave Eggers’s 2006 novel, What Is the What, that most clearly attempts that imaginative leap into other ways of looking, perceiving and describing. A first person narrative which achieves an outstanding blend of fiction and reportage, it is based on years of interviews conducted with Valentino Achak Deng, a child refugee in the Sudanese civil war. The latest offering to jump the fence is Not Untrue and Not Unkind, a debut novel by a former Irish Times correspondent in Africa, set against the 1997 fall of President Mobutu and the bloody transformation of Zaire into the Democratic Republic of Congo. Like Bennett’s The Catastrophist, this is a novel which offers a view of African wars from inside the international press corps. In so doing it attempts something more complex, and perhaps more honest, than fictional reportage. This is not a novel about war, or even a…



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