Friday, June 04, 2010

Ed O'Loughlin's NOT UNTRUE & NOT UNKIND in New York Times Book Review

Ed O'Loughlin's brilliant debut novel Not Untrue & Not Unkind is reviewed in this Sunday's The New York Times Book Review Summer Reading issue:

"Before the rise of the Internet, before the elimination of international bureaus at magazines and newspapers, the Africa beat in the 1990s epitomized both the dangers and the romance of the foreign correspondent's life. As dictators fell, tribal animosities exploded and wide areas of the continent dissolved into anarchy, a pack of reporters and photographers shuttled from bush war to coup d'etat, documenting the upheaval.

The outpouring of memoirs that resulted offers convincing evidence of the intensity of their experiences. Among the most memorable are Aidan Hartley's "Zanzibar Chest," about his days as a Reuters reporter in the Horn of Africa, Sudan, Rwanda and Burundi; Michela Wrong's "In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz," an account of the collapse of Zaire under the dictator Mobutu Sese Seko; and Keith Richburg's "Out of America," which recounted the conflicts and massacres through the eyes of an African-American journalist.

Ed O'Loughlin's first novel, Not Untrue and Not Unkind, is a worthy fictional addition to this company. O'Loughlin, who reported from Africa for The Irish Times and other newspapers during that decade, tells the story of Owen Simmons, a former Johannesburg-based freelancer. The novel begins in a wintry city that seems like Dublin, where Simmons has been marooned for nearly a decade, bound to a desk job after an unspecified calamity that sent him home "a hero" but left him with psychic and physical scars.

In Goma, and later in Kinshasa and Kigali, Simmons is introduced to a small group of Western journalists with whom he forms a tight yet complicated bond: a hard-living Scandinavian photographer with a collapsing marriage; an enthusiastic but green Italian photographer who becomes Simmon's sidekick; a "pig-ugly" British journalist who takes Simmons under his wing. A confidence-oozing reporter for a prestigious New York daily shows up to compete with Simmons for the affection of the enigmatic Beatrice, "a diplomatic brat" with whom Simmons engages in a doomed love affair.

The pack stays together through wartime adventures that O'Loughlin recreates in understated, haunting prose. With its intensely evocative language and atmosphere of looming tragedy, Not Untrue and Not Unkind is a book that far transcends the usual literary efforts of the former combat reporter. It stands as an elegy not only for Simmons's band of colleagues but for a golden era of journalism." - Joshua Hammer

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