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Favorites from the Archives: Kenneth Cain, Heidi Postlewait, and Andrew Thompson – Emergency Sex

November 16, 2012

So this week got unexpectedly busy, with the upshot that last weekend was spent alternately frantically working and nursing a cold, instead of relaxing and reading and writing blog posts for this week. Instead I’m going to re-post some older reviews from my archives. I’m picking books that I loved, but that aren’t as well known as I think they should be.

121. Emergency Sex: And Other Desperate Measures by Kenneth Cain, Heidi Postlewait, and Andrew Thompson (2004)

Length: 320 pages
Genre: Non-fiction

Started: 9 December 2007
Finished: 12 December 2007
The original post is here.

Summary: This book is a memoir of the three authors’ time spent on various UN peacekeeping missions in the 1990s, formatted as short, overlapping sections from each point of view. The three met in Cambodia, organizing the country’s first democratic elections, and were later posted to missions in Haiti, Somalia, Rwanda, Bosnia, and Liberia. This book works on several levels: first, as an eyewitness account of what it was really like “on the ground” during events that most people only heard snippets of on the news. However, it’s also a frank discussion of the repercussions of UN and US policy; an elegy for lost idealism, both personal and national; and a confession of the lengths that people will go to to maintain their sanity and their souls when faced with some of the worst possible examples of human evil.

Review: This book blew me away. Even though the opening admits that the book includes “all the subjective distortions and revisions we told ourselves, our friends, and our bosses”, I have never read a more brutally honest and vivid memoir. This book is fairly dark – not only due to the subject matter of the atrocities it describes – but also because it doesn’t shy away from laying bare the less-pleasant sides of its narrators. Thoughts about sex, violence, hatred, depression, the loss of hope and faith, power, and all of the things everyone experiences to some degree, all are magnified for the authors by the crisis situations of some of the worst places on Earth, and all are exposed for the sake of the reader. The result is a book that presents international politics in the ’90s in an incredibly vivid, personal, and moving way – an important piece that was missing for most of us who only caught the 30-second snippets on CNN. The title is a little sensational – if you’re looking for sex and scandal you’ll probably be disappointed, although after finishing, I think the title fits the book perfectly. I’m not a big non-fiction reader, and politics and recent history/current events are not particular interests, but this book is a clear exception – it managed to give face and voice to the headlines, and really made me stop to think about peace, war, human brutality, and what our role is and should be. 5 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: Highly recommended for just about everyone, whether or not you like non-fiction, memoirs, or recent political history (maybe particularly if not).

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews: A Striped Armchair, Age 30+ A Lifetime of Books
Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: My husband’s colleagues don’t believe he has a wife since I never show up at any of their events.


  • p. 22: “Just after we met, glasnost and perestroika hit Phnom Penh, and the officers were given permission to invite me for dinner inside the high-walled Soviet compound.” – the declared public policy within the Soviet Union of openly and frankly discussing economic and political realities; the program of economic and political reform in the Soviet Union initiated by Mikhail Gorbachev in 1986.
  • p. 292: “I’m going to invite my parents. I didn’t spend nearly enough time with them during those peripatetic years, and I want to put that right.” – walking or traveling about; itinerant.

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