Edges are interesting places. Unpredictable stuff happens there. Much of what many of us take for granted every day – belonging, security, understanding – can be missing, or at least fleeting.
In his latest book, the second in a trilogy, J. explores these themes through the eyes and experiences of humanitarian workers and the people they are striving to help. Most of his protagonists live at the edges – between one place and another, never really belonging, often knowing that there’s something else, just out of reach, even if they don’t know what that something else might be.
J. weaves themes about the reality of humanitarian work into the story, giving the reader rare insights. Set in Cambodia and Washington, DC, the story evolves around Mary-Anne, whom we met in the first of the trilogy Missionary, Mercenary, Mystic, Misfit. In fact, we met Mary-Anne in the prequel, Disastrous Passion – a romance set in aftermath of a Haiti earthquake. The books track Mary-Anne’s journey at many levels – her growth as a person, her understanding of her place in the world, her increasing awareness, and sometimes dismay, of what it means to work ‘in aid’.
The title of this book is telling: it explores the sometimes muddy ethics and behaviours that underpin humanitarian decisions, the trade-offs and the sacrifices, the wins and the losses, the idealism and the pragmatism. J. does this very well indeed, weaving the stories of different characters to explore many of the inter-relationships and experiences that make up the ‘big’ picture of humanitarian work. Occasionally, he slips into the territory of too much humanitarian jargon and too much detail, but this is a small quibble in a thoroughly entertaining, and believable book.
J. knows his stuff too. He has lived and worked in the countries in which the book is set, he knows what it’s like to juggle the demands of a humanitarian career, he knows what it’s like to sit through endless ‘very important meetings’, to visit places many of us have only heard of, to travel endless miles in dodgy vehicles, to talk with people who simply want a chance to make the most of their lives. He’s not alone. There are many, many people who will recognise themselves in this book, and the themes it explores. What sets J. apart is his ability to share these experiences with those of us who are not humanitarian workers, who think we know how it ‘should’ or ‘could’ be done, who have opinions based on good intentions and little awareness.
This book will be widely read by those in the industry. It should be read by everyone who proffers an opinion about aid, NGOs, and humanitarian workers. It might just open some eyes, and hearts. Get it from AmazonEdges, General | Comment (0)