three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
21-Mar-Apr-2006
user_rating: 
0

How the World Betrayed a Small African Nation

A-IDidn'tDoItForYou...Eritrea, a small African nation bordering Ethiopia, is the nation that the world forgot. Wrong casts a sharp eye on Eritrea’s history, claiming it represents a tale of "betrayal, repeated across the generations, and how the expectation of betrayal can both create an extraordinary inner strength and distort a national psyche." In turns ruled by Italy and Britain, betrayed by the U.N., used by the U.S. and Soviet Union as a power pawn during the Cold War, and annexed by Ethiopia in 1962, Eritrea succumbed to foreign nations’ geopolitical forays for more than a century. In 1993 it finally gained independence from Ethiopia, only to lapse back into political uncertainty. Far more than presenting a lesson in history, Wrong tells a tragic tale of a country desperate for democracy and faith in the future.
HarperCollins. 432 pages. $25.95. ISBN: 0060780924

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"Wrong deepens our understanding of how Selassie and then Mengistu Haile Mariam extorted aid and arms from both Washington and Moscow. And her interviews with former freedom fighters unravel the complex logistics that kept the Eritrean insurgency going for an entire generation in the craggy north." Stéphanie Giry

Cleveland Plain Dealer 3.5 of 5 Stars
"It is easy for Americans not to think about Africa. But as this courageous writer shows us, when we look at Africa, we are peering not through a window but into a mirror." Daniel Dyer

Houston Chronicle 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Wrong is genuinely impressed with Eritrea as a nation composed of honest, do-it-yourself individuals who deserve to thrive. The book, while clear-eyed about imperfections of Eritreans, is a valentine to a nation abused again and again by outsiders." Steve Weinberg

New York Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Although Ms. Wrong, as a reporter, stepped into Eritrean history during the heady days of independence, her most gripping pages deal with the colonial period and the battle of Keren, which she recounts in pulse-pounding prose. … Her sense of moral indignation occasionally gets the better of her, especially when it comes to writing about the decades-long Eritrean insurgency." William Grimes

Washington Post 2 of 5 Stars
"Wrong’s book provides a rare and convincing review of the policies and motives of Eritrea’s colonial masters, but the history she recounts is less satisfying as an explanation of Eritrea’s character and post-independence policies. … Wrong’s greatest failure is her portrayal of Eritrea’s colonial past as an excuse for its troubled present." Susan E. Rice

Critical Summary

Wrong, an Africa correspondent for the Financial Times, is no stranger to African politics. In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz (2001) covered Zaire’s brutal history; this book attempts to put Eritrea in the public conscience. While chronicling each stage of the nation’s history, Wrong creates lively profiles and successfully dissects geopolitical rivalries. Highly readable, the most compelling parts address the colonial and postwar eras, when the U.N. failed to act against Ethiopian repression. Other pages, including her discussion of the presence of U.S. military personnel, received mixed reviews. Some critics even wondered if Wrong’s "True Believer" optimism didn’t create a simplistic morality play. But all told, I Didn’t Do It For You is an important book, one that will help put Eritrea back on the world map.