Monday, February 6, 2012

Geddes Discusses Justice and Healing in Africa

Please join us Tuesday, February 7, at 7 pm to hear author Gary Geddes read from and discuss his recently published book Drink the Bitter Root: A Search for Justice and healing in Africa (Counterpoint Press).  

Drink the Bitter Root is a provocative, emotionally charged account of one writer’s travels in sub-Saharan Africa. Haunted by the 1993 murder of a Somali teenager by Canadian soldiers in what became known as the Somalia affair, and long fascinated by the “dark continent,” the author decided at age 68 to make the trip. His explorations are guided by questions: How can a tribunal in a suburb of Europe change things on the ground in Africa? Is international aid improving the lives of ordinary Africans or contributing to their suffering?

He began his trip at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, then traveled to Rwanda, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, and Somaliland. The stories Geddes brings back are haunting, uplifting, stark and sometimes unbearable, but all are presented with the essential lightness Jean-Paul Sartre insisted is so crucial to good writing. This masterful blend of history, reportage, testimonial and memoir is a condemnation of the horrors spawned by greed and corruption and an eloquent tribute to human resilience.

Geddes, who lives on Thetis Island in British Columbia, has written and edited more than 40 books and has received numerous literary awards, including the British Columbia Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Literary Excellence and Chile’s Gabriela Mistral Prize. He is the author of two bestselling travel memoirs, The Kingdom of Ten Thousand Things and Sailing Home.

Long fascinated by Africa, Geddes studied the works of Joseph Conrad, who described the Belgian Congo as “the vilest scramble for loot that has ever disfigured the history of human consciousness" -- and Geddes reports that the scramble for loot in Africa continues. He read the works of Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, and other African writers. But he felt a growing urge to understand first-hand what was taking place on the "Dark Continent." Before traveling to Africa he consulted one of his fellow Canadians, the columnist Jonathan Manthorpe, who had served as foreign correspondent in Africa for many years. His advice? "Keep moving. Don't stand around looking lost or confused. An injured animal is fair game in Africa."

As he traveled through Africa, it was the personal stories, rather than the statistics, that got to him the most: "some shouted, some delivered in the faintest of whispers, others dragged screaming from the vault of memory."

Here is a little of what Geddes learned in his journey:

"I’m no expert, just a concerned observer, but I encountered so many examples of kindness, grace, intelligence and progressive thinking that contradicted the impression many Westerners have of the Africa as site of corruption and violence, with chaos looming over everything. I hope that, by addressing my own ignorance and modest discoveries, others might be encouraged to do the same."

"In short, I learned that Africans are ready to instruct us about restorative justice, to provide valuable lessons on care, community and solidarity, and to forgive us for the travesties of the past. In exchange, they demand genuine respect, for individuals, cultures and languages; that we regulate our extractive industries abroad, making them accountable for environmental and human rights violations; and that we remove those subsidies that jeopardize their chances of entering into the worldwide fair exchange of commodities."

We hope you can join the discussion at Broadway Books tomorrow night at 7 pm.

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