Nine-year-old Kali Abduhi Omar stares at her reflection in the screen of a broken television set in a makeshift room in one of Djiboutiville’s illicit doss houses
A MILLION SHILLINGS: Escape from Somalia by Alixandra Fazzina TROLLEY BOOKS, HB, £24.99
A MILLION SHILLINGS: by Alixandra Fazzina TROLLEY BOOKS, HB, £24.99
A million shillings is what people smugglers charge the tahrib – illegal emigrants – to escape Somalia’s civil war. Yemen is the favoured destination, but the trip across the Gulf of Aden, while mortally dangerous – one typical boatload saw 11 of 140 passengers survive – tells a tiny part of the story.
First, the tahrib have to cross seemingly endless stony plains; reaching Bosaso, once a thriving fishing port, their journey often stalls in the refugee camps, some of which are 20 years old. Many who can afford the smugglers’ fare are murdered on the boats: unlike those who drown, ‘there are no traces of foaming salt water around their mouths, only the vicious marks left by rifle butts’.
Unaccompanied children, or those orphaned en route, can be sold into slavery or a life of abuse; that one of the people smuggler’s boats is clearly emblazoned with the Save the Children logo is as bleak an irony as any artist might capture. And for the successful, a life in the slums of Basatine is often their only reward, spiralling debt leaving them at the mercy of allegedly Saudi-controlled gangs.
There are portraits here that are both beautiful and moving, but for all Alixandra Fazzina’s skill, this is mostly guerilla photography, sometimes blurred, sometimes brutal; less about artful composition than about snatching images, often from people who would rather not have their picture taken. And given the ease with which such people resort to murder, Fazzina’s courage is as remarkable as her book is powerful. MICK HERRON
THE CAUCASUS: An Introduction by Thomas de Waal OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS, PB, £12.99
This is a fascinating and timely book. The Caucasus, as Thomas de Waal puts it, is a ‘geopolitical seismic zone’ and, heaven knows, it has been much in the news over recent years. It has doubtless also appeared with alarming frequency in the briefing notes of diplomats and policymakers around the world. The curious, rather shameful thing is that most of us (me included) know far too little about places such as Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia.
De Waal oﬀers us a primer, and it’s outstanding. I can’t remember when 259 pages taught me quite as much. He focuses on the events of the recent, post-Soviet decades and does an excellent job of disentangling all of the regional conflicts and rivalries. He also delves deeper – into the longer history of the area and the processes that have created local cultural identities.
This is an admirably impartial book, but de Waal doesn’t shy away from dispensing some useful advice. It’s very tempting for the rest of the world to intervene in the aﬀairs of the Caucasus (the strategic stakes are high, and the potential energy resources are seductive) but, while the facilitation of political resolutions is a fine and noble idea, heavy-handedness is likely to do more harm than good.
As for the locals, de Waal suggests that they stop seeing themselves as isolated, acrimonious players in a futile battle and instead cultivate a shared regional identity – quite the pipedream, but one that’s worth pursuing. JONATHAN WRIGHT
64 www.geog raphical.co.uk FEBRUARY 2011