Drink the Bitter Root

Drink the Bitter Root

A Writer's Search for Justice and Redemption in Africa

Book - 2011
Average Rating:
Rate this:

Set across Africa, this is a deeply engaging investigation of trauma, justice and the redemptive powers of imagination from an internationally acclaimed author.

Drink the Bitter Root is a provocative, emotionally charged account of one writer's travels in sub-Saharan Africa. Haunted by the 1993 murder of a Somali teenager by Canadian soldiers in what became known as the Somalia affair, and long fascinated by the "dark continent," Gary Geddes decides at age 68 to make the trip. His explorations are guided by questions: How can a tribunal in a suburb of Europe change things on the ground in Africa? Is international aid improving the lives of ordinary Africans or contributing to their suffering?

Geddes' search takes him first to the International Criminal Court in The Hague. In Rwanda and Uganda, he attends grassroots criminal courts and encounters rescued street kids, women raped and infected with HIV during the genocide, and victims mutilated by the Lord's Resistance Army. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia and Somaliland, with the help of fixers and the occasional armed guard, Geddes finds himself in the instructive -- at times redeeming -- presence of child soldiers, refugees and poets-turned-freedom fighters. Of particular note is his time in Somaliland, where he learns about the country's concern with poetry as "a healing and a subversive art"; Somalia is known as a nation of poets, and Geddes attends various events that bear that appellation out, including a four-hour extravaganza of poetry devoted to celebrating the camel attended by 500 people.

The stories Geddes brings back are haunting, uplifting, stark and sometimes unbearable, but all are presented with the essential lightness Jean-Paul Sartre insisted is so crucial to good writing. This masterful blend of history, reportage, testimonial and memoir is a condemnation of the horrors spawned by greed and corruption and an eloquent tribute to human resilience.

Publisher: Vancouver : Douglas & McIntyre, c2011.
ISBN: 9781553654582
Branch Call Number: 967.033 GEDDE
Characteristics: 232 p. : map.


From the critics

Community Activity


Add a Comment

Apr 16, 2012

The book was a finalist for the 2012 BC non-fiction award.

Sep 17, 2011

This travelogue-memoir was a "Staff Pick" of the Fall 2011 issue of "BC Bookworld" magazine. The item noted that the book "describes Geddes' forays, at age 68, into Rwanda, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia and Somaliland. In a world of child soldiers, refugees and poets-turned-freedom fighters, Geddes is particularly impressed by Somali culture in which poetry is a popular activity viewed as 'a healing and a subversive art'."

So much for their opinion. As a reader who worked in southern Africa for several years, my response was that Geddes was a voyeur of African misery and crime. It would be like hanging out on Vancouver's Eastside to observe, photograph and interview the prostitutes, addicts, and homeless for the next parasitic book. I wanted to quit before I got to page 50. I persevered to the end. I regret it. [Note the injunction in the "Quotes" tab.]


Add a Summary

Oct 15, 2011

The author goes to Rwanda to see the great gorillas before they are exterminated ... and happens to see some child-soldiers, raped women, and political prisoners ... while enjoying good meals and cold beers in the new hotels catering to prosperous NGOs.


Add a Quote

Oct 15, 2011

In his Postscript, Geddes quotes an "... Australian aboriginal elder Lilla Watson: 'If you've come to help me, don't waste your time. If you have come because your liberation is bound up in mine, then we can work together.'" (p. 221) Then the author offers a list of aid agencies and human rights groups to readers who may want to help. Geddes and readers should re-read Ms. Watson's injunction.

Age Suitability

Add Age Suitability

There are no age suitabilities for this title yet.


Add Notices

There are no notices for this title yet.

Explore Further

Subject Headings


Find it at JMS

To Top