Meltdown turns focus to warlords

20 March 2012 - 02:28 By Andrew Donaldson
Andrew Donaldson
Andrew Donaldson

Short, sharp guidance and observations from a journalist with attitude. All books available from Exclusives

IF YOU READ ONE BOOK THIS WEEK. . .

'Last Exit in New Jersey', by CE Grundler (Thomas & Mercer), R175

BRASH and antisocial, you're going to love 20-year-old Hazel Moran, the heroine of Grundler's debut. She drives trucks and sails boats but needs help with the people skills - especially when bad guys come looking for a relative about a missing trailer. Offbeat, darkly humorous fare with mayhem and balls.

THE ISSUE

OH DEAR. Just as the hoo-hah over the Invisible Children and the Kony 2012 video had settled down, the film's clean-cut director Jason Russell gets flung into a pyschiatric ward after a spectacular meltdown in which he ran about naked in public, masturbating and shouting at the traffic. His wife says it's stress; the barrage of abuse from aid agencies, NGO groups and professional busybodies would make a nice American Christian who only wanted to help quite mad.

One recurring refrain in the criticism directed at Kony 2012 is that it is too simplistic and that the "situation" in the war-torn region was too complex to be knocked about in a viral campaign.

This is rubbish, of course. Joseph Kony is a war criminal. His Lord's Resistance Army has abducted children in northern Uganda, raped them and turned them into killers. This has continued for years as repeated "peace" negotiations between the LRA and an ineffectual and corrupt Ugandan government come to nothing. What is so complex about all that?

A brilliant work, first published last year, Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa, by Jason K Stearns, is about to hit the shelves in paperback form. It is an invaluable study on the culture of warlords and the brutal environments in which they thrive. Stearns has an extraordinary grasp of the Congo's "convoluted" affairs and its relationships with its neighbours, particularly Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda, which he unpacks in a comprehensive manner. He makes the point, convincingly, that the massacres occur wherever credible authority is lacking.

CRASH COURSE

AND if you thought understanding Africa's civil wars were difficult, then try Bob Dylan's Tarantula (1971), arguably one of the most unintelligible novels ever written. It opens: "aretha/ crystal jukebox queen of hymn and him diffused in drunk transfusion wound would heed sweet soundwave crippled & cry salute to oh great particular el dorado reel & ye battered personal god but she cannot she the leader of whom when ye follow, she cannot has no back she cannot. . ."

Now comes A Crash Course on Reading Tarantula, by "expert" Robin Witting, which provides a step-by-step introduction to this "masterwork". As Witting's publishers insist: "If you didn't get Tarantula the first, or even the fourth time around, you owe it to yourself to try again."

THE BOTTOM LINE

"GESTAPO." - Enemies: A History of the FBI, by Tim Weiner (Random House)

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