Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Martin Meredith, "The Fate of Africa" (2006)

The full title of this release is "The Fate of Africa: From the Hopes of Freedom to the Heart of Despair - Fifty Years of Independence".

Although Meredith offers a short introduction of pre-World War II African history, his story really begins with the deposition of Egypt's King Farouk and the Suez Crisis of 1956.

In the first half of the book, Meredith avoids getting bogged down in details, and concentrates on narrative. By 200 pages in, however, the narrative momentum is difficult to maintain. As he describes how individual countries pursued different paths to independence, and responded to the challenges of independence differently, a macro/regional approach makes less sense. It also makes tougher writing, of course. Attempting to track the development of individual countries starts to considerably complicate the narrative, and boggles the casual reader.

Likely as a way to manage this challenge, Meredith moves to a thematic focus, using chapters to deal with individual countries or themes such as AIDS. Placed within the complicated context he has narrated, the unpacking of tragedies such as Rwanda and the Congo made much more sense.

Meredith has set himself an impressive, difficult to manage task: to write a fifty-year history of the continent that has seen some of the most rapid and dangerous social, political, and economic changes since World War II. Weaknesses are to be expected. His book is... ok. As casual reading it is a bit of a slog, but does provide a useful reference, and does concisely and clearly establish some of the major lines of African contemporary history. He also, for better or worse, places his ideological premises front and centre, making no apologies for the positive roles he feels international trade, as well as international financial and political organizations can and have played in Africa since the Second World War.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Hugh MacLennan, "Two Solitudes" (1945)

Along with Louis Hémon's Maria Chapdelaine and Pierre Vallieres' White Niggers of America, Two Solitudes is essential reading for anyone who wants to attempt to understand twentieth-century Quebec. MacLennan's book is one of the pillars of Canadian fiction. A mixed francophone/anglophone Quebec family provides a trope to investigate the quite different experiences and perceptions of french-speaking Quebecers and the anglophone "others", both within the province and beyond it. Covering the period between the end of the First World War and the beginning of the Second, MacLennan's book covers economic, linguistic, religious, and social experiences. My wife suggested that it is the "most boring book I've ever read", but I found it moved along at a nice pace. It became, however, very depressing in the second half. This reflects the reality of the times, however.

Entirely aside from this review, I was MIGHTY pleased to find a first edition of this book in a used store delete bin for $1. What a score. Even if it's not worth much in terms of trade value, it's a beautiful, pristine little piece of Canadiana.