23 March 2013

Review of The Ringtone and The Drum

Have you heard about the story of the aid worker who traveled in Africa? Why yes, that is pretty much every book about aid.

So you can excuse me for being a bit jaded when approaching Mark Weston’s book that recounts his travels with his wife to the West African countries of Sierra Leone, Guinea-Bissau and Burkina Faso. Weston’s The Ringtone and the Drum opens in a way that makes the reader feel as if they are about to read a self-indulged account of his travels through some of the worst countries in the world. That initial impression was dead wrong.

The exposition section acted less as a set up and more like a series of information that Weston wanted to shed as quickly possible. Make no mistake about it, the book is about him. However his role is that of the storyteller who happens to be in the story, rather than the main character. Weston is the connective tissue of the stories of the people that he interacts with across the three countries.

The arc of his story allows him to bring in historical background information to fill in the context of the current state of the countries. Weston resists the temptation to fit the people he meets into a neat story about progress or development. Rather, he shares their stories as a way to show the complex ways that the lives of the poor cannot be packaged into a neat box.

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