‘Somalia is one of the world’s most desolate, sun-scorched lands, inhabited by independent-minded and fierce tribesmen . . .
It was here that Gerald Hanley spent the Second World War, charged with preventing bloodshed between feuding tribes at a remote outstation. Rations were scarce, pay infrequent and his detachment of native soldiers near-mutinous.
In these extreme conditions seven British officers took their own lives, but Hanley describes the period as ‘the most valuable time’ of his life. He comes to understand the Somalis’ love of fighting and to admire their contempt for death. ‘Of all the races of Africa,’ he says, ‘there cannot be one better to live among than the most difficult, the proudest, the bravest, the vainest, the most merciless, the friendliest: the Somalis.’ – Eland Books
Reviewed by Justin Marozzi in Slightly Foxed Issue 50.
An Irishman in Somalia
Can a book save one’s life? I used to think so when stationed in Mogadishu, avoiding thoughts of murder or suicide in that sunburnt madness only by immersing myself in Gerald Hanley’s Warriors (1971). Day after day I would throw myself on to my bed after another utterly fruitless, pointless day in the president’s office, and lie down, sweating beneath squadrons of flies and mosquitoes, and try to forget about it all.
I found the best way to preserve my sanity – after obsessive diversions with Trollope’s Palliser and Barchester novels and some calming doses of Marcus Aurelius – was to turn to the man who survived a marathon posting to the remotest desert outposts of Somalia in the 1940s and, years later, wrote one of the most remarkable accounts in English of this fiery country and her extraordinary people . . .
‘The foremost writer of his generation.’ Ernest Hemingway
Comments & Reviews
Leave your review