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Reading ‘Standard Operating Procedure’ in Nairobi

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The book: Standard Operating Procedure, Philip Gourevitch

The place: Nairobi

One book leads to another: in Little Failure, Gary Shteyngart namechecks Philip Gourevitch, which had me thinking: wait, I haven’t heard anything about him for quite some time. My friend S. forced me to read We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families years ago, when it first came out, and it made quite an impression, but since then Gourevitch seems to have spent most of his time selfishly writing for the New Yorker. He has written two other books – A Cold Case, which is very short and which I burned through on my way to Mogadishu a few weeks ago – and this, about Abu Ghraib.

And this book is so good. I easily run out of superlatives when talking about books, and in this case, describing a book that contains detailed discussions of torture as amazing would seem inappropriate. But Gourevitch is such a skillful writer that he’s able to not only write compellingly about the abuses the prisoners suffered, but to make the perpetrators somewhat sympathetic and relatable, victims of the same illegal war and utterly immoral policies as the Iraqi prisoners that they tormented. There’s a very clear sense within the book that torture is inflicted on the torturer almost as much as on the tortured.


I have spent the last few days rather unexpectedly in Nairobi, indulging in all the things I miss the most when in Mogadishu:


Vegetables, which are in very short supply in Somalia. I have been troughing down at least one salad a day.


The great outdoors: fresh air, trees, and the ability to move freely without armed escorts and body armour.


Social life: friends, conversation, secret Nairobi jazz bars.


Written by Jess

October 20, 2014 at 6:38 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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