The Blood Latitudes
by William Harrison
- reviewed by J.M. Frank
The Blood Latitudes talks about father son relationships,
forbidden love affairs, and life as a reporter in the field, but
really this is a book about Africa. This is not the Africa you may
have seen in movies with white people on safaris, endless rolling
plains, or the other images we commonly are fed. This is the Africa
of famine, bloody ethnic power battles, unnamed wars, and unthinkable
The plot revolves around a father and son who are
both journalists. The father has retired from covering the African
continent, while the son has just started in that role at the same
paper. Things go wrong, and the father must return to Africa to
uncover what has happened.
Harrison is a fine storyteller who does an excellent
job of creating a striking contrast between the beautiful physical
landscape and the human atrocities going on across that landscape.
The lives of the main characters are interesting and the characters
are well-developed, but they become minor as the setting changes
to a war-torn section of Africa and the setting becomes the story
with the characters as more of a backdrop.
It has been a long time since I have read a book this
powerful. The power is in the simple reporting of humans acting
inhumanely to other humans. There are scenes described here that
are not for the faint of heart. They linger in the mind long after
the book is over. But these scenes are also written in a manner
that is both realistic in content and in the reaction of the main
The power of the book comes not only from the frank
brutality of these scenes but from what they say about man in general.
Because in the end this is a book not just about Africa, and certainly
not just about these main characters, but it is about man's natural
inclination to often act in the most reprehensible manner. The characters
committing the brutality are not just realistic, they are understandable
and at times even sympathetic.
This is a fine page-turner that works as a war story,
a tale of family relations, but most of all as a powerful testament
as to the nature of man.
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