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The Rift: A New Africa Breaks Free

Foreign correspondent and Newsweek contributing editor Alex Perry (Lifeblood) takes an ambitious and controversial approach to answering some of the thorniest questions about Africa's contradictions and its epic quest for freedom.

Perry starts from the premise that "outsiders" all too often get Africa wrong. The journalists, academics and foreign aid workers who define Africa for the Western world tend to treat Africa as a monolithic entity or sell their own solution. Aware he's an outsider, Perry avoids interviewing familiar experts in favor of recounting the stories he's been told over the course of a decade crisscrossing the continent. He writes about men and women from Kenya, South Sudan, Rwanda, South Africa and elsewhere. There's Khalima, the 38-year-old mother of nine in Mogadishu, husband near death, her five remaining children left at the city gates while she searches for a burial site for her dying seven-year-old son. The episode gives a human face to an avoidable disaster: southern Somalia was under the control of a militant group with terrorist ties, and a U.S. aid block, part of the U.S. war on terror, was intended to deprive a few thousand militia fighters, but effectively denied emergency food to several million Somalis, resulting in a humanitarian crisis.

Perry does equal justice to seemingly intractable problems, yet also details how the continent has enormous potential: Africa's economic growth has been double the global average since 2003. The Rift is an immensely readable, shocking and important book. It challenges readers to think about how we relate to a changing continent, the suffering around us, and what it means to do good in the world. --Jeanette Zwart, freelance writer and reviewer