"The Zanzibar Chest is a many-legged hybrid. In part it is a wrenching account of African horrors... Further, [it] is also a loving, often evocative account of East Africa... [Hartley] writes the horrors along with the sharpest of vignettes."

- Richard Eder in and The International Herald Tribune


"This account of the author's time as a foreign correspondent in Africa in the late 1980s and early 1990s is a strange, mesmerizing, painfully honest book: part hilarious and part horrifying, part memoir and part journalism-cum-history, part mockery and part celebration. It paints a brilliant portrait, fond but candid, of the "hacks" who chase dramatic stories in exotic and scary places - "the good times, the friendship, intensity, fear, sense of purpose, the sheer exotic escapism of it all" - but declines at all turns to lapse into sentimentality."

- Jonathan Yardley in


"Other African correspondents have trotted off their memoirs. None has been so successful in blending both hard reporting and laddish on-the-road antics within a telling personal and historical framework. Hartley evokes the excitement and pathos of the modern continent. As aficionados of his occasional pieces in The Spectator will know, he is perhaps the best mzungu (white man) writing about the real Africa today."

- Andrew Lycett in


"Hartley's strength as a writer is his reporter's eye for brutal detail and his ability to fashion blunt anecdotes from the unfinished business of recent history..."

- Ken Foster in The San Francisco Chronicle


"...it is for the most part wonderful and everywhere remarkable. Most extraordinary of all, despite everything, Hartley writes with love and an astonishing zest."

- Alan Massie in


"Aidan Hartley's fine book stands comparison with Rian Malan's voyage of discovery in his native South Africa, My Traitor's Heart, and with Peter Godwin's marvellous evocation of his life in Zimbabwe, Mukiwa."

- Anthony Daniels in


"...the most startling memoir of Africa for a generation... his recollection is gripping, and often intensely moving."

- James Astill in The Guardian


"Hartley's greatest literary strength comes from the living he has done; many M.F.A.-programmed writers would trade a limb for just a month's worth of his stories... skillfully and with deceptive simplicity, they deliver the deepest hauntings"

- Rob Nixon in The Sunday New York Times


"You will struggle to find a more authentic, urgent or brilliant account of the underbelly of contemporary Africa. Hartley does not judge what he sees. He is not a white theorist of black history and politics. He is simply a witness. This book seems destined to be a classic."

- Christopher Ross in


"The ultimate war correspondent's memoir - the kind many a reporter must have daydreamed about writing as he or she nursed a beer in a bullet-riddled shack near the frontline. But Hartley has actually achieved it, filling page after page with highly charged accounts of the evil and suffering he has witnessed... this is a truly impressive and haunting book, an impassioned and often beautifully written account of one man's journey to the heart of darkness, and his slow, painful voyage back."

- Harry Ritchie in


"Out of the ashes of misbegotten hopes, Hartley has fashioned a mesmerizing story of pain and loss."

- Joshua Hammer in Newsweek


"...what Mr Hartley writes about best are the dichotomies within himself—his ache for Africa, his rage at its horrors, his longing for the peace of making love under the stars and his inability to give up the war-zone drum roll of gunshot and heartbeat that convinces you tomorrow may never come."



"In The Zanzibar Chest, fine writing, some hilarious anecdotes and family histories recounted with an impressive grasp of detail and colour trace the story of Hartley's colonial ancestors as they travelled around the British empire."

- Mark Huband in The Financial Times


"Aidan Hartley contrasts the historical role of the white settlers in Africa with the interventions of modern aid agencies (often disastrous) and his own frenetic rootlessness as a day-by-day reporter in the thick of African revolutions... Current events in Liberia and Monrovia give an acute relevance to Aidan Hartley’s book... Now living in Kenya, Hartley combines a reflective calm with a vivid recall of desperate days."

- Iain Finlayson in


"A breathtaking work, an epic part-autobiography, and part-biography... passages of aching beauty which inevitably will invite comparisons with that other desert love story, Michael Ondaatje's The English Patient... Hartley's engagement with his central character Davey is so rich in detail and affection that the pages slip by far too fast... Hartley's own saga is no less compelling..."

- Sam Kiley in The London Evening Standard


"...a masterpiece. This is a hugely ambitious book, a history of his family’s involvement with Africa over 70 years and can be compared in quality to an equally riveting book by a white African, Rian Malan’s My Traitor’s Heart."

- Matthew Leeming in The Spectator


"Hartley is... at his best when writing of the chaos of modern conflict and its often seemingly casual barbarity, and when describing the extraordinary life of the reporters and television crews who choose to cover it... he takes an obvious delight in the beauty of the countries to which he was posted. He conjures up with vivid immediacy the frenetic pace of his colleagues, their boozy, buzzing life and gallows humor, and the dangers they faced... what comes across more powerfully still is Hartley's love for Africa itself and his great grief at its unhappy modern history."

- Caroline Moorehead in


"For 10 years he chewed over his experiences, and now we are the ones to be rewarded. He is an exceptional writer, at times richly lyrical, and where appropriate, bluntly direct. When we can take the front-line horrors no more, he takes us off in search of Davey, changing the pace and allowing us to catch our breath before we must endure a return to carnage. He holds our attention throughout, shocking us where he must, entertaining us where he can."

- Mike Eldon in


"Mesmerizing... A sweeping, poetic homage to Africa, a continent made vivid by Hartley's capable, stunning prose."

- (starred review)


"Haunted by what he has seen. Hartley has transcribed his nightmares and he leaves the reader with a mesmerising portrait of his beloved Africa."



"In Aidan Hartley's 'The Zanzibar Chest', the real, idiot free, Africa emerges in all its ultravivid complexity... a lush memoir."

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- msnbc.com


"There is no doubt from Aidan Hartley's huge memoir that he is both a passionate writer and a most courageous soul... he is excellent on the madness of Mogadishu and his book is both intense and immensely readable."

- Christina Lamb in


"Sweeping... Hartley convincingly relives the horrors, the stench, the utter brutalities, and immediacy of coming upon massacred Tutsi inside a church or battered bodies in Lake Victoria, the pell-mell fight of UN peacekeepers, and the lewd wantonness of conflict."

- Robert I. Rotberg in The Christian Science Monitor


"Remind[s] us that setting up democracies anywhere will fail every time if we ignore non-Western cultures and religious ideology."

- The Atlanta Journal-Constitution


"A splendiferous pastiche of Africa wisdom, youthful exuberance, nostalgia, love, adventure and despair set in a world of constant and seldom-positive change... Cynicism wrestles with idealism throughout the book... Hartley's stories, told here, are an act of bravery. They should be read."

- Roy Durfee in The Santa Fe New Mexican


"The Zanzibar Chest is several stories rolled into one. Included are the adventures of Hartley's father, Hartley's experiences reporting some of Africa's bloodiest fighting and the intriguing mystery of the long dead Davey. Events depicted can be disturbing but are never boring."

- Kathleen Hipson in The Tampa Tribune


"Riveting... This haunting book is both enlightening and heartbreaking. Like Hartley, you will be forever changed by this time in Africa."

- Susan Larson in The New Orleans Times-Picayune


"Hartley has been to all the worst places and seen the worst horrors, he's excellent with facts, and he wants to know whether history has not played a huge joke on colonizers and colonized alike."

- National Geographic Adventure


"This remarkable book is more than the memoir of a war correspondent. It is, by turn, slam-bang adventure and shimmering poetry. It is hilarious, orgiastically bawdy, poignantly romantic, gory as war itself, and populated with census-sized number of vivid personalities. All that plus informative and dreadfully prophetic... Hartley's book must rank with other great journalistic memoirs 'Eric Severeids's Not So Wild a Dream and Webb Miller's I Found No Peace.'"

- Bart Mcdowell in The Washington Times


"Hartley uses crisp, to-the-point prose threaded with delicious, dark humor and a sense of the absurd that reaches its height as he details the bungled U.N. intervention in Somalia. His accounts of bloodshed and corruption are all the more effective for his refusal to sugarcoat it... In the end, one can only stand as witness, and Hartley is an eloquent one."

- Claudia La Rocco, Associated Press


"[Hartley] has deftly captured the horror of war, famine and genocide in modern Africa... Fast-paced and well-written... Hartley has crafted a great read, one whose disturbing sights, sounds and smells are bound to resonate with readers long after they put the book back on the shelf."

- James Scott in The Charleston Post & Courier


"A startling refreshing perspective on the political, social, and cultural impact of British colonialism in Africa and Arabia... Hartley details a fascinating odyssey that reflects on the past, present, and future of colonialism."

- Vernon Ford, Booklist


"In 'The Zanzibar Chest', Hartley has given us an unusually personal account of what it looks and feels like to venture time and again into the belly of the beast. Hartley is a gifted wordsmith, and he delivers fine descriptive accounts of life on the ground under the extremities of war."

- Bill Berkeley in The Los Angeles Times


"This is an extraordinary and heartbreaking book, the finest account of a war correspondent's psychic wracking since Michael Herr's Dispatches, and the best white writing from Africa in many, many years."

- Rian Malan, author of My Traitor's Heart


"Aidan Hartley writes like a dream and he really has something to say. The Zanzibar Chest deserves to become a classic."

- Fergal Keane


"Engaging... These accounts... seethe with shocking and grisly consequences... [Hartley's] native's perspective on African affairs enhances the narrative."

- Kirkus Reviews


"A work of tremendous candour and vigour. Passionately articulated, The Zanzibar Chest offers a vision of Africa through the eyes of the war reporter that is unsettling, compelling and moving by turns. Reportage, history, family memoir and personal testimony intertwine in a work of passion and intensity to create a book that is impossible to forget."

- Aminatta Forna, author of The Devil that Danced on the Water


"Aidan Hartley's The Zanzibar Chest is a stunning piece of work. There is an amazing depth, breadth and grace of fine writing in this book. It will reside permanently in my memory. No one should dare say the word 'Africa' without reading it."

- Jim Harrison, author of Off to the Side


"Hieronymous Bosch reincarnated as a frontline correspondent invited to the midnight banquet of Africa's bloody horrors, that's who Aidan Hartley seems to be, an outrageously brave and anguished heart disgorging the never-inert legacies of colonialism."

- Bob Shacochis, author of The Immaculate Invasion


"A profoundly moving masterpiece. Whether he's writing about a searing love affair in the middle of a war-zone, or describing friendships made and lost in the confusion of the front-lines, Hartley's book is heartbreaking, achingly beautiful, and shockingly honest. Rarely has a writer bared their soul to such magnificent effect. This is much, much more than a book about war reporting. It is an extraordinary tapestry of friendships, love affairs, betrayals, and murders, that finally come together to give us an intimate and epic portrait of Africa in the 20th Century."

- Hossain Amini, Academy Award Nominated Screenwriter of The Wings of the Dove