Despite its plain, rather academic title, Mark Huband's book is not a comprehensive history of the war in Liberia. Rather it is highly personal, drawn from his own expererience of being caught up in the early part of the war -- a series of vivid, highly detailed snapshots of particular times and places, linked together with just enough basic history to knit them into a narrative. But it is also one of the first serious attempts in print to try to make sense of what happened in Liberia in the early nineties. As such it will be compelling reading for anyone who was in Liberia, or closely followed events there at that time. It was the essence of the conflict that it was dispersed and chaotic, and people caught up in it were isolated and ignorant of the whole. Once the fighting started, Liberia was a country without post or telephones, without newspapers, radio or television. Individuals knew only what was happening to them where they were trapped, but had no idea wha! t was going on five miles up the road. So Liberians are still trying to piece together the patchwork, fill in the gaps, and understand what happened. Mark Huband, who was then a young British journalist working in the region, had a grandstand view of some of the most dramatic events -- after being kidnapped in an ambush on a train, he was the first outsider to visit rebel territory and meet Charles Taylor -- so can fill a lot of gaps. He has also spent the years since nagging at some of the central mysteries of the war, such as those surrounding the death of the former President Samuel Doe. Was it pre-planned, and if so who by? Was Doe betrayed, and who was the traitor? I was there when the President was taken away to his death, but I still don't know the answers to those questions. This book helps bring us a little closer. I can't pretend to review this book from the point of view of readers who don't know Liberia. They may find it an absorbing and painfully vivi! d account of what happens to quite ordinary people when all! civilisation falls apart, and their country descends into anarchy around them. Or they may simply be confused. If so their confusion will be greatly increased by the false economy of the publishers who have not included any half-way decent map. So here's a good idea; why doesn't Amazon get some good maps and street plans of Monrovia, and sell them as a boxed set? It would make this book accessible to a far wider audience.
Huband's book is essentially three very different ones on the same subject put together in one jacket. And it ultimately fails to win top marks due to this. Part one , based on his experiences is interesting and gives good eyewitness accounts of events behind rebel lines in 1990. However for those who followed newpaper reports closely at the time [and who like me have files full of Huband's articles] there's little new. Part two, his dogged investigation of the events leading to the war is excellent and I just wonder why the whole book wasn't written in this analytical style. The final part fails to inspire as it is based on the author's attempt to discuss the later events of civil war in the six years that followed the events he witnessed in 1990. A bold, though flawed attempt to explain the 1989-1996 civil war in Liberia. Huband's book should more realistically have been titled ''Liberia: 1990, the start of an African war''.
I just finished reading Mark Huband's real-life horror story, The Liberian Civil War, and there were moments on the airplane this afternoon when I simply had put the book down. The tragedy of Liberia is not just that these terrible things happened, but that so little was done to avert them. For those of us who knew the Liberia that used to be, and have walked among ashes that are Liberia today, this book will fill in many of the details that survivors prefer not to recount. I salute Mark Huband--along all journalists who bear witness at great personal risk -- and who, when the smoke clears, take the time to tell us their story in the intensly personal way that Mr. Hubbard has done. Comment to the publishers: thank you for taking the risk on a book with such limited appeal. If there's a second printing, take Ms. Blunt's advise and add detailed maps of West Africa, Liberia and Monrovia, along with lots more photos.
Marks account of events surrounding the Liberian Civil War is very revealing for many of us Liberians and friends of Liberia who have longed for such information. Any one who wants an unbiased account of the Liberian Civil War ought to read this book.