Saturday, May 12, 2012

Not Untrue And Not Unkind by Ed O'Loughlin

Owen Simmons has a comfortable life these days.  His work as a foreign correspondent over, he potters around in the newspaper's home office, doing little real work but a fixture nonetheless.  The death of an office mate and the discovery of an old file of Simmons' stories from his time in Africa leads him to wonder why his colleague was interested in his time there and forces him back in his mind to relive those days.

Owen went to Africa as a stringer, a journalist who wrote articles hoping to sell them afterwards to someone.  He falls in with the journalist circle there, those with full-time jobs, photographers, TV journalists, print journalists.  Although they are all after the same story, they become a society, helping each other and making friends and lovers within the group.  Owen travels and befriends various members of the group, including a woman journalist he loves but feels he knows little about.

Owen spends several years there in the 1990's, covering the Rwandan genocide and the various national uprisings.  The group becomes hardened to violence and death as they move from one hot spot to another, seeing how little any one death meant in the grand scheme of things.  Owen leaves when he is caught in an ambush and gravely wounded.  Several of his friends are also in the ambush, and what happened that day and their various fates are the mainspring of the book. There is also a secret associated with the ambush that serves as a focal point of the novel.

Ed O'Loughlin writes from first-hand experience, as he himself spent time in Africa as a correspondent for the Irish Times.  Readers will be interested in this subset of war, those who document it so that most of us can experience it comfortably in an armchair.  He accurately portrays the suddenness of violence and death in a war zone, and how banal it all becomes when it is an everyday occurrence. Not Untrue And Not Unkind was a Mann Booker Prize nominee in 2009.  This book is recommended for adult readers interested in how world events are reported and the lives of journalists.

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