It isn't often that one finds a page-turner that can be read on a single day, but Denis Johnson has written just that. A highly readable and recommendable account of his travels to Africa, Seek is a masterly written book. Johnson has always been fascinated by the despondency and exotic surroundings one finds abroad and his first book—Tree of Smoke—was a marvellous story of the onset of the Vietnam War. The short stories collected in Seek, however, are not an effort to create a narrative of the warzones he was visiting. For that he had no time, since he spent most of his time getting to where he was supposed to be working. Instead, all stories are roadtrips, Bukowski going to Africa of sorts. The most disturbing encounter took place in Liberia, which he visited twice during the 1990s. Once meeting Prince Johnson, a notorious warlord who tortured and killed Samuel Doe and showed the footage of the so called “interrogation” with pride to journalists and the esteemed writer. When re-visiting Liberia a couple of years later, he is supposed to meet Charles Taylor but is instead shuffled through the country, meeting only drugged fighters and drunk generals. But what emerges is a picture of the intractable nature of the conflict raging in Liberia at the time.
I am just realising that this is probably the fourth or fifth book in a row that could not possibly be summarised as a classic study in war and warfare. But sooner or later I shall come up with a reading list on military affairs and since well-written accounts of Africa's military are hard to come by, this might well qualify. Its a good read in any event.