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.
About the author
Gary Geddes was born in Vancouver and raised mostly on the west coast, where he gill netted, loaded boxcars at BC Sugar Refinery, stocked shelves at Woodwards, worked as a fishing guide at Whytecliffe, taught on Texada Island, and drove water-taxi. After doing graduate studies at Reading University in England and at the University of Toronto, he embarked on a varied career as a writer, teacher, editor, and publisher. Gary taught for twenty years at Concordia University in Montreal before returning to the west coast, where he was appointed Distinguished Professor of Canadian Culture at Western Washington University (1998-2001) and served as writer-in-residence at Green College (UBC), and the Vancouver Public Library. He has written and edited more than thirty-five books of poetry, fiction, drama, non-fiction, criticism, translation and anthologies, including 20th Century Poetry & Poetics and 15 Canadian Poets Times 3. His literary awards include the E.J. Pratt Medal and Prize (1970), the National Poetry Prize (1981), the Americas Best Book Award in the 1985 Commonwealth Poetry Competition, National Magazine Gold Award (1987), the Writers Choice Award (1988), Archibald Lampman Prize (1990 and 1996), the Poetry Book Society Recommendation (1996) and the Gabriela Mistral Prize (1996), which he shared with Nobel laureates Octavio Paz and Vaclav Havel and with Rafael Alberti, Ernesto Cardenal, and Mario Benedetti. Gary Geddes lives on Vancouver Island, where he divides his time between Victoria and French Beach.
- Short-listed, Hubert Evans Non-Fiction Prize
"Geddes' style mixes political reportage, history, travel, cultural analysis and personal memoir. Yet it's not an overly graphic, ravaging read. Instead, itï¿½s told with lyrical description, humility and even humour...Part of what makes Drink the Bitter Root accessible and relatable is the fact that the ignorance Geddes confronts is not only external -- of places, people and politics -- but internal: about himself."
"A writer that truly believes that literature has the ability to change the world for the better, Geddes has produced a work well worth reading for both its content and its call to action."
Quill & Quire
"Drink the Bitter Root has an esoteric quality, which is not surprising given Geddes' background as a poet. But this time he aims for realism and literal accuracy. He largely succeeds through the graphic accounts offered by his interviewees."
Winnipeg Free Press
Other titles by Gary Geddes
The Oysters I Bring to Banquets
A Journey through the Minefields of Indigenous Health Care
Resumption of Play, The
70 Canadian Poets
Kingdom Of Ten Thousand Things
An Impossible Journey From Kabul to Chiapas
A Journey Through Time, Place, and Memory