Some people’s lives. Jeffrey Gettleman’s life sounds like a biopic a future me would watch, chewing on my nails, sure the subject of the film wouldn’t make it to the end alive.
His memoir, Love, Africa, is filled with far off places, strife, war, love stretched across continents and decades, near death escapades and interesting people. I struggled to write about this book, probably because I was marginally jealous of his experiences and career trajectory, no matter how silly and misplaced the feelings are. I would have made a terrible war correspondent. I hate being dirty, hungry, lost, thirsty. On top of that, I hate ambiguity, strange places and loud noises. It wouldn’t have worked out. I probably would have died immediately.
But Gettleman’s book does one thing perfectly: craft longing. Most likely because Gettleman himself is a man who has longed desperately and deeply to immerse himself in Africa and become (as an extension of that longing, not as an initial goal) the East Africa bureau chief for the New York Times. His memoir is an adventure, even as it is filled with the death of comrades, children, co-workers, friends and compatriots. There were countries in Africa, while Gettleman was there, that were not safe for anyone, much less its inhabitants. His choices were risky, even if they paid off and he eventually walked away with a Pulitzer Prize for reporting.
Gettleman’s book is also a love triangle. Not in the way you’d expect. He’s torn between the woman he loves and Africa, a country he fell in love with as a young man. These two loves pull him apart and eventually put him back together. He admits he is a cliche: a white man obsessed with the lure of Africa. He’s petty and sometimes childish and he acts in ways that could be deemed reprehensible, if we had the moral high ground. And who does, really?
Love, Africa is worth a read, if only because it sheds light on a part of the world western media ignores in the immediate and headline-making needs of other places, Syria included. The world is often bigger than our news headlines.