The pursuit of war is everyone's business

DEVIL’S HARVEST by Andrew Brown (Zebra Press)

As usual, Andrew Brown engages current issues with verve and well-researched detail. This novel on the modern atrocities of ongoing arms deals, drones and decades-old refugee camps describes with elegant fluency the contrasting lives of people in Bristol (and London) and South Sudan.

Brown links these in a plot that comes to seem less improbable and more believable as it unfolds.

Gabriel Cockburn, an academic botanist, is first revealed as a whinging, self-absorbed, insular fellow, with resonances of the arrogance of Richard Dawkins and the satirical minutiae of David Lodge’s campus novels.

When his academic research sends him to South Sudan he has no idea what is in store for him. His guide, Alek, is a woman with an agenda of her own – bold and desperate in her quest for some justice.

Deftly characterised warlords and other mercenaries are shown alongside aid workers (both good and indifferent). South Africans do not come out well.

Although Brown’s third-person narration of Gabriel’s conservative views initially seems quite sympathetic, by the end he allows him a conversion, painfully achieved, to a more aware state of mind.

And he shows how wars in remote places are probably much more our business, and our responsibility, than one might think.

A very good read.

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