In Sierra Leone

Duke University Press: Durham, 2004, reprinted 2005

Of all my reunions, this was the most overwhelming. When Noah walked into the room, I did not recognize him at first because of the glare from the doorway behind him, and because he was wearing glasses.  But then he emerged from the shadows, and we fell into each other’s arms, clasping each other, tears rolling down our cheeks, and when we sat down together on the sofa and began to talk we continued to touch each other, as though still unable to grasp the transformation that has just occurred.

In 2002, as Sierra Leone prepared to announce the end of its brutal civil war, the distinguished anthropologist, poet, and novelist Michael Jackson returned to the country where he had intermittently lived and worked as an ethnographer since 1969. While his initial concern was to help his old friend Sewa Bockarie (S. B.) Marah—a prominent figure in Sierra Leonean politics—write his autobiography, Jackson’s experiences during his stay led him to create a more complex work: In Sierra Leone, a beautifully rendered mosaic integrating S. B.’s moving stories with personal reflections, ethnographic digressions, and meditations on history and violence.

Though the Revolutionary United Front (R.U.F.) ostensibly fought its war (1991–2002) against corrupt government, the people of Sierra Leone were its victims. By the time the war was over, more than fifty thousand were dead, thousands more had been maimed, and over one million were displaced. Jackson relates the stories of political leaders and ordinary people trying to salvage their lives and livelihoods in the aftermath of cataclysmic violence. Combining these with his own knowledge of African folklore, history, and politics and with S. B.’s bittersweet memories—of his family’s rich heritage, his imprisonment as a political detainee, and his position in several of Sierra Leone’s post-independence governments—Jackson has created a work of elegiac, literary, and philosophical power.

 

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