Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Snapshot Book Review: Chasing Chaos

Chasing Chaos: My Decade In and Out of Humanitarian AidChasing Chaos: My Decade In and Out of Humanitarian Aid by Jessica Alexander
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

For what it was, this book did an admirable. I remained interested in Jessica's personal story, the explanations of how humanitarian aid functions, and the descriptions of what was going on the wider world throughout the book. (Well, at least until the last chapter or so.) Unfortunately, the book couldn't quite figure out what genre it wanted to fit into--it wasn't quite travel writing, it wasn't quite journalism, and it wasn't quite a memoir--and as a result, the writing itself suffered.

I'm glad Jessica didn't write this strictly as a memoir, because I feel it might quickly have devolved into an Eat, Pray, Love wannabe, starting with a "lost self" and ending with a "found self." I think her exploration into the world of humanitarian aid was very frank and informative, and even more so because she didn't attempt to offer any real answers. Some readers will likely find this depressing and pointless (why point out the shortcomings if she doesn't have any suggestions for solutions?), but I thought that it made her analysis of the whole system much more believable. It's very fair to point out existing problems, even if there are no easy solutions to offer.

I would have loved to give this book five stars, but first I had to dock one star for the writing itself (it wasn't seamless or gripping or even mature enough for a five star review), and then I had to dock a second star for pacing. I can appreciate that time in these camps passes rather slowly despite all of the chaos that's swirling around, and I can appreciate wanting to pace those portions of the book somewhat similarly, for effect. If that were the case, though, other portions of the book needed to be condensed and zipped through much more quickly. Because as readers, we need a sense of urgency to get to the end. And then, when the end is nothing more than extremely bogged-down explanations of factual information that we already surmised earlier in the book . . . well, her editor should have demanded some changes.

All in all, however, Chasing Chaos was a worthwhile book for anyone interested in learning more about the life of a humanitarian aid worker.

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