The Zanzibar Chest: A Story of Life, Love, and Death in Foreign Lands

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9780871138712: The Zanzibar Chest: A Story of Life, Love, and Death in Foreign Lands

An epic narrative combining the literary reportage of Ryzard Kapuscinski with a historical love story reminiscent of Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient

In his final days, rising from a bed made of mountain cedar, lashed with thongs of rawhide from an oryx shot many years before, Aidan Hartley’s father says to him, "We should have never come." Those words spoke of a colonial legacy that stretched back over 150 years through four generations of one British family. From great-great-grandfather William Temple, who was awarded the Victoria Cross for his role in defending British settlements in nineteenth century New Zealand, to his father, a colonial officer sent to Africa in the 1920s, building dams and irrigation projects in Arabia in the 1940s, then returning to Africa to raise a family—these were intrepid men who traveled to exotic lands to conquer, to build, and finally to bear witness. For finally there is Aidan, who becomes a journalist covering Africa in the 1990s. Weaving together stories, his family’s history, and his childhood in Africa, Aidan tells us what he saw.

After the end of the Cold War, there seemed to be new hope for Africa but again and again—in Ethiopia, in Somalia, Rwanda, and the Congo, the terror and genocide prevailed. In Somalia, three of Aidan’s close friends are torn to pieces by an angry mob. Then, after walking overland from Uganda with the rebel army, Aidan is witness to the terrible atrocities in Rwanda, appearing at the sites and interviewing survivors days after the massacres. Finally, burnt out from a decade of horror, Aidan retreats to his family’s house in Kenya where he discovers the Zanzibar chest his father left him. Intricately hand-carved and smelling of camphor, the chest contained the diaries of his father’s best friend, Peter Davey, an Englishman who died under mysterious circumstances over fifty years ago. Tucking the papers under his arm, Hartley embarked on a journey to southern Arabia in an effort not only to unlock the secrets of Davey’s life, but of his own. He travels to the remote mountains and deserts of southern Arabia where his father served as a British officer. He begins to piece together the disparate elements of Davey’s story, a man who fell in love with an Arabian princess and converted to Islam, but ultimately had to pay an exacting price.

The Zanzibar Chest is an enthralling narrative of men and women meddling with, embracing, and ultimately being transformed by other cultures—one of the most important examinations of colonialism ever written.

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About the Author:

Aidan Hartley was born in 1965. He lives in Kenya with his wife and two children.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

In the corner of the veranda was a Zanzibar chest, carved with a skill modern Swahili carpenters have forgotten. The old camphor box bore a design of lotus, paisley, and pineapple, and was studded with rivets tarnished green in the salty air. When I opened the chest lid, cobwebs tore and something scuttled into a corner.

Inside one box file were my father’s hand-written memoirs on which he had been working for years. I opened a second file and reached down to grasp the pages. The instant I touched them they began to crumble in my hands. Time, heat, and the drenching humidity had ravaged them. Mildew dusted the covers, giving off that scent of the forgotten.

I quickly realized I had stumbled on a secret that had been buried for half a century. Here were the diaries of the man named Peter Davey, my father’s good friend. Ever since I was a boy, the story of Davey crept in and out of conversation at home in vague, half-finished sentences. The tale had always been there, yet my father never properly talked about it. Davey was a silence, a shadow that moved constantly out of the corner of one’s eye. And now, as if it had been deliberately dropped into my lap, was the full and tragic rendition of Davey’s life.

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Descripción Atlantic Monthly Press, New York, NY, 2003. Soft Cover. Estado de conservación: New. Uncorrected Proof. BRAND NEW COPY. Enthralling historical novel of colonialism in southern Arabia --- a narrative of English men and women meddling with, embracing, and ultimately transformed by alien cultures. Uncorrected Proof. Nº de ref. de la librería 012288

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