The Zanzibar Chest : A Memoir of Love and War, Paperback Book

The Zanzibar Chest : A Memoir of Love and War Paperback

4 out of 5 (1 rating)


A deeply affecting memoir of a childhood in Africa and the continent's horrendous wars, which Hartley witnessed at first hand as a journalist in the 1990s.

Shortlisted for the prestigious Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-fiction, this is a masterpiece of autobiographical journalism. Aidan Hartley, a foreign correspondent, burned-out from the horror of covering the terrifying micro wars of the 1990s, from Rwanda to Bosnia, seeks solace and solitude in the remote mountains and deserts of southern Arabia and the Yemen, following his father's death.

While there, he finds himself on the trail of the tragic story of an old friend of his father's, who fell in love and was murdered in southern Arabia fifty years ago.

As the terrible events of the past unfold, Hartley finds his own kind of deliverance. `The Zanzibar Chest' is a powerful story about a man witnessing and confronting extreme violence and being broken down by it, and of a son trying to come to terms with the death of a father whom he also saw as his best friend.

It charts not only a love affair between two people, but also the British love affair with Arabia and the vast emptinesses of the desert, which become a fitting metaphor for the emotional and spiritual condition in which Hartley finds himself.


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 320 pages, 16 b/w plates, Index
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: Biography: general
  • ISBN: 9780006531210

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There is a fair amount of reportage in this book, much of it harrowing although delivered with the nonchalence and detatchment of the war reporter, and yet one detects that the thick skin is more cosmetic, self protective and indeed in due course it falls away. It is Hartley's inate love and empathy with Africa and Africans, and a hard earned camerarderie with the various hacks and rhino skinned media folk he falls in with, which lifts the writing above that of documentary. In the end it is the story of Aidan Hartley.Hartley's fascination with Africa comes from a childhood spent listening to rich stories of his parents and their friends, exotic stories of the late colonial period, of respect and adventure, and moreover of their love of the continent and its people. The trouble for Hartley is that he is attached to those stories ingrained in his physche but his African view is very different and his days are spent in the immediate post colonial era with change and volatility all around. He comes to recognise that change through the stoicism of his parents, and especially his father who is forced to adapt and although he is useful being fluent Swahili and a skilled negotiator with the Africans, his frustrations are there to see and feel and his retisence grows as nostalgia fades. Hartley finds himself sent to England for education and becomes influenced by the swinging sixties and intoxicated with social revolution. DRAFT - to be completed