Monday, May 19, 2014

Groove Book Report - The Trigger by Tim Butcher - Chatto & Windus (London)

Foreign correspondent Tim Butcher is a British best-selling author and the kind of explorer that blend history with travel.  His latest, "The Trigger", documents the 'story' of the young man who sparked the First World War a hundred years ago by shooting dead Archduke Franz Ferdinand on a street corner in Sarajevo. In the introduction Tim talks about how he was in Sarajevo during the Serbian siege of the city, which was at the heart of the Serbian/Bosnian war in the 1990's.  He noticed how, during a lull in the fighting locals were out on the streets.  He followed some, thinking they were heading to a secret location, only to discover the town's only public toilet was in fact the tomb of a Serbian: Gavrilo Princip - the assassin.  This, in turn leads to a trek across Bosnia and part of Serbia on the trail of Princip, making a number of discoveries missed by a century of historians.

His first book, "Blood River - A Journey To Africa's Broken Heart", was an epic solo journey through the Congo. Translated into six languages, it topped the Sunday Times best-seller list in Britain and was shortlisted for various awards from the Samuel Johnson Prize in London to the Ryszard Kapuściński Award in Warsaw.  And his second, "Chasing The Devil" was a  350 mile hike  through Liberia down a trail walked by the whisky-sozzled Graham Greene in 1935, discovering along the way that Greene's life was saved by his indomitable cousin Barbara Greene.

As the foreign correspondent for The Daily Telegraph, Tim specialised in covering awkward places at awkward times: Kurdistan under attack in 1991 by Hussein; Sarajevo during the Bosnian War; the Allied attack on Iraq in 2003; Israel's 2006 clash with Hizbollah in southern Lebanon;  God loves a trier.  He must love and watch over Tim!

"The Trigger" is a tough read.  Nothing in this part of the world is tidy or romantic and Butcher tells many tales that are both hair raising and challenging.  His work is impeccable and you wonder how he found out what he knows.  It almost borders on insane.  Why don't the historians know this.  Butcher relies a lot on local knowledge, with his skill being the talent of listening and only asking the few questions that get results.  In the year of commemoration of WWI there will be plenty of books about the hardships of the troops, of the mud and the blind loyalty that ruined a generation for little reason other that blind ignorance.  Butcher's tries to find the real reasons for the assassination, which was less about a political catalyst and more about genuine rebellion against an empire that was hell bent on domination.  That same sentiment re-emerges in the 1990's during the Serbian/Bosnian war.  He's not slow to see that the same people a few generations on are affected by the same tyrannies as in the past.

No comments:

Post a Comment