Horn of Africa

Moody took a box of cigarettes from his shirtpocket and handed him the foil wrapper. Scratching his robe, which appeared to be made of old sandbags stitched together, the boy held the wrapper and gazed in wonder at its silvery glint.

“What is this?”

“In English it's called tinfoil....”

“Tinfoal.” The boy held the wrapper out flat, turning it this way and that. “Why, it's like a mirror! A mirror made of paper.”

“Yes. I've given you a paper mirror. Now you go. Understand? Go. Go. Go.”

The boy smiled brightly. Flies clung to the corner of his mouth, nibbling on the crumbs left from his last meal... Turning suddenly, he ran toward the other children and exclaimed, ”The foreigner has given me a tinfoal. A tinfoal is a paper mirror.” Then they all went down the street, jabbering excitedly about the camel-colored man who had given them a paper mirror.

Philip Caputo, the author of this book, is a former Marine Corps. lieutenant who for almost a decade was a prize-winning reporter for the Chicago Tribune, who among other things was for a time a captive of Palestinian guerrillas. He also covered the civil war in Eritrea. His book A Rumor of War (which I haven't read) was very well received critically. This book also got some good reviews, and I thought it was pretty good myself, though not fantastic. To its benefit, it is reasonably engrossing, and has some good character insights as well as descriptions of the Eastern Sahara and its peoples. But it tends to be a bit ponderous at times, describing the characters instead of portraying them through their actions. It some respects, it resembles a pre-Hemingway novel: like something written by Joseph Conrad, or Jack London.

In sum, a pretty good, though not excellent book: I rate it *** (out of ****).

This book is out of print, but may be at your local library, or can be ordered from Twice Told Books.

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