a bookclique pick from Rhoda Flaxman
I’ve always been fascinated by Africa and count my trips to Kenya, South Africa, and Morocco among the most rewarding adventures of my life. Therefore I quickly devoured Love, Africa, Jeffrey Gettleman’s memoir of his ten years (2007-2017) as New York Times bureau chief for the twelve countries of sub-Saharan Africa.
Primarily based in Nairobi, Gettleman vividly takes us, through his writing, to places many will never see. He is a great storyteller with a warm, humorous voice and a smooth, spare style. With him we witness both the beauty and struggle for citizens of Kenya, Burundi, Mogadishu, Darfur.
Gettleman records dangerous adventures chasing war stories in the Ogaden Desert between Ethiopia and Somalia. In Somalia he takes us to meet with warlords like Abu Mansoor, members of al-Shabaab, and pirates who may be helping to fund the country’s government. He and his partner are arrested by the Ethiopian police and grilled about the location of rebels like Captain Peacock of the Ogaden National Liberation Front, whose life Gettleman’s careless note-taking may later compromise.
The book does not offer an in-depth analysis of history, politics, or sociology. Nevertheless, Gettleman’s skill as a journalist allows him to deliver informative background for the general reader in engaging prose. Can he be accused of parachute journalism in this memoir? Perhaps. For his more serious side, see his recent article in the New York Review of Books (12/7/17) describing how, despite so many challenges, “Somalia Rebounds.” Or, from his new position as South Asia bureau chief living in New Delhi, his brief description of Indian hijras (transgender, intersex, and hermaphroditic people) in The New York Times (2/18/18).
While Gettleman clearly can operate as a sophisticated analyst and concerned observer in his newspaper reportage, this memoir chooses to keep a light touch and focus on his own development as a journalist in a place he loves, Africa.