10 January 2013

Reflections on Traveling in the World's Poorest Countries

An interview with Mark Weston about his new book, The Ringtone and the Drum. The book is an account of Weston's travels through the West African countries of Sierra Leone, Guinea-Bissau and Burkina Faso. All three countries rate in the bottom 15 countries of the Human Development Index. I am in the middle of the book and moving at a snail's pace. However, that is not due to Weston, but my own lack of discipline.

What appeared early on to be a book that edged on naval-gazing has turned out, so far, to be a compelling study on the complexities of some of the world's poorest countries as well as Weston's ability to adjust to what he is experiencing. The success in the book is that the subject is Weston, but he makes the book less about himself than what surrounds him.

Kate Cronin-Furman summed it up well back in December when she wrote:
For a journalist or a human rights advocate, the consequent loss of objectivity might be disastrous, but the travelogue format gives Weston the leeway to engage his breakdown directly. Instead of minimizing it, or alternately, presenting West Africa as the monolithic “thing that drove him crazy,” he uses it to shrink the distance between himself and his subjects, generating real insight into the emotional lives of the individuals with whom he interacts.
The video is a good way to get a better sense of the book in Weston's words.