Africa: Altered States, Ordinary Miracles
by Richard Dowden
PublicAffairs, New York, NY, USA, 2010; 592 pp; pb $19.95
Africa is like a giant tapestry; lots of colourful threads make up a vast and complex continent. However, the Western world often overlooks its many sides. Instead, it sees Africa as one “country” that is plagued with disasters of every kind. To the Western audience, Africa is hopeless and constantly experiencing suffering.
Author Richard Dowden, who moved to Uganda in 1971 to work as a teacher and journalist, seeks to unravel common misconceptions about Africa. He relies on his extensive travel across the continent to do so in his book, Africa: Altered States, Ordinary Miracles. He is realistic in his quest – he acknowledges Africa’s well-known struggle with poverty and corruption but also paints a different picture – a realistic picture of a land where, along with the struggles and losses, there are victories and triumphs. In short, he showcases an Africa in which there is hope.
The author explains his eagerness to project the “real” Africa: “The ordinary gets ignored in Africa as it does in Asia or South America. Normality is nice but it does not – as they say – sell newspapers … It is the same with most of Africa. Not all Africans are fighting or starving. Millions have never known hunger or war and lead ordinary peaceful lives.” But this aspect is not newsworthy and instead the media like to maintain Africa’s tarnished image.
To explore Africa’s true essence with all its intricacies and nuances, Dowden introduces readers to his personal accounts: he presents vibrant anecdotes from Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Somalia, among others. Each story portrays Africa in its reality and highlights stories of struggle and tales of survival. For expatriates, natives and other foreigners, the 592-page book is something to relish. But the author warns: “Beware. Africa can be addictive.”
— Pavithra Rao
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