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BOOKS & THE CULTURE Life in the No-Go Zone BY EMILY RAPP Bay of Tigers: An African Odyssey By Pedro Rosa Mendes, Translated by Clifford Landers Harcourt 336 pages, $25. 1 n March 1998, I helped organize an NGO-sponsored conference for young Africans. As they traveled from various countries, their journeys across borders were never without complications. From my office in Geneva I wrangled for visas, while from Zimbabwe, South Africa, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Angola, Ethiopia, and other places, they took taxis to embassies, \(often camping out in front of offered monetary bribes for visas \(some of which later appeared on expense or overcrowded bus with only the sky for a ceiling. Twenty out of the 40 who had been invited finally arrived in Okahandjah, a small town in Namibia located on an occasionally impassable road. It was there that I met Marcus, a 23-year-old Angolan who needed medical attention when he arrived because his shoes, made of tire parts, had practically melted into his feet; he left a trail of charcoal-colored stains wherever he walked. He said that he had walked from a bus stop “near Angola.” Both impressed and horrified by the strength of his feet and his makeshift shoes, I asked him exactly from where “near Angola”which border townhis journey had begun. “The town on the other side of the planet,” was his reply. In Bay of Tigers: An African Odyssey, Portuguese journalist Pedro Rosa Mendes, now 35, documents a 90-day journey from Angola across Zambia to Mozambique that he made in 1997 during a brief respite from “the madness around the dinner table,” his term for Angola’s seemingly endless civil war. Traveling more than 10,000 kilometers between the two former Portuguese colonies, he visited cities that for all we know about them might as well be on a different planet: Lubango, Luanda, Lobito, Benguela, Cuito, Zumbo, Chongoroi, Quelimane. Organized into anecdotes and observations of the landscape and people, as well as the author’s own diary entries and interviews with guerilla generals, town leaders, street buskers, and former child soldiers, Bay of Tigers \(the title refers to an abandoned fishermen’s has a gritty, surreal quality not unlike that of a documentary film in which disturbing and occasionally horrific images are arranged in an artistically beautiful way. Mendes offers little historical background within the text; instead, the reader must piece it together by consulting the extensive glossary with its list of acronyms that spell out wars and guerilla groups, explaining who switched sides and when and why. In 1974 Angola declared its independence and civil war followed. The Union for the Total Independence of Angola the National Front for the Liberation of ugees in the Congo, were supported by the United States, its Western allies, and South Africa. The People’s Movement founded by Agostinho Neto in 1956, was backed by Cuba and the Soviet Union. Division among the various liberation movements had a long history that pre-dated independence from Portugal. Eventually the MPLA prevailed. Aligning itself with Portuguese interests and the metropolitan elite, it became the state party based in Luanda, turning away from Marxism-Leninism only in 1992, when President dos Santos officially adopted “democratic socialism:’ In the meantime, UNITA built up one of the largest armies in Africa, with support from the Ovimbundo ethnic group and the recruitment of child soldiers. Apart from a brief period of UN-sponsored peace, Angola, as described by Mendes, is a place where \(\(wars come like the days” and politics is geography. “You fight for and vote for the place where you are:’ he writes. The enemy, however, is just as likely to be foreign as Angolanunexploded mines and missiles come from South Africa, China, Korea, Russia, Israel, and the United States. Mendes writes in a brave mix of genres, and his writing style is eclectic, erratic, and fast-paced, lapsing occasionally into the non-narrative and nonsensical. At its best, the book is lyrical and euphoric in its strangeness. At its worst, it feels manipulative and contrived, its organization odd to the point of being annoying, particularly when the looping and leaping quality of the narrative appears to be deliberately disorientinglike a hand-held camera in a documentary featurein a way that seems to have been designed to mimic the author’s own messy journey. He is deeply concerned with the way that perceptions of a journey literand identity; this single theme recurs throughout the book. “An arrival is at the same time a creation \(a place it receives coormerely his account, he identifies with it because from it he extracts his identity; he doesn’t exist outside the map: traveler and map are a single entity?’ 22 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 10/24/03