When Angola achieved its hard-won independence in 1974, rival rebel factions began to fight for control of the state. As in Latin America, the "liberating" rebel forces were often as brutal as the autocratic, established regime. The result is a country still ravaged by unspeakable violence, corruption, and an ongoing power struggle. Portuguese journalist/author Pedro Rosa Mendes tells the story of modern-day Angola in Bay of Tigers: An Odyssey Through War-Torn Angola. As Mendes's depiction makes clear, this is not the Africa of Elspeth Huxley or Isak Dinesen: "Through the night. There is no scenery, no villages, no people around fires, or elephants silhouetted against the sky. I could speak of such things, I was hoping to, but it would be a lie." Instead, we are presented with an array of stories and observations, often told in the voices of those Mendes interviewed during his 6,000-mile journey from Angola to Mozambique.
Although Mendes is journalist, he sustains a magic-realist tone throughout the book: "It was when the mine smashed into the road that Zeca realized he was dead." However, he punctuates his imagery-laden language and vignettes with chilling facts: "There are more than one hundred million mines buried in seventy countries, close to a tenth of them in Angola." The reader must tread uneven ground in the book. Mendes does not provide an easy-to-follow narrative. History mixes with the present, in this multi-voiced story of shifting alliances, unimaginable devastation and destruction. Mendes provides a glossary that supplies historical context for those who are not familiar with Angola's complex history. Considering the hardships that Mendes endured during the course of his trip, one wonders why he saw it through to the end. Then, one thinks of the long-suffering people of Angola to whom he gives voice and for whom these hardships are an everyday reality that will not soon disappear, and one understands why. --Silvana Tropea [via]