Rather naively, I was shocked at the way the world ignored the genocide in Rwanda, and this led me to Samantha Power's Pulitzer Prize winning book, A Problem from Hell. Power takes as her starting point the dreams of the UN after the Holocaust, and then shows how systematically it has failed to act in a timely or effective manner in every single genocide since then. No matter the country, the story is the same - too much bureaucracy, countries unwilling to risk their troops, leaders reluctant as they know they will not be pressurised by their constituents. Power's research is impeccable, and even though this book makes for grim reading, it is important, as the only way we can make organisations take more action is by exerting political pressure on them.
Although I'm sure there are many histories of the Holocaust out there, Lyn Smith's Forgotten Voices of the Holocaust is probably one of the most powerful. Smith visited the oral archive of interviews with survivors in London's imperial war museum, and the book consists of simply their own stories in their own words. There's no editing and not much context, and this makes it all the more impacting.
One of the consequences of human disasters is the creation of refugees. In Human Cargo, Caroline Moorehead visits refugees around the world and asks them to share their experiences. In doing so, she relates the inhumane ways they are sometimes treated, imprisoned in detention centres and subject to interrogations. Moorehead offers no solution to the problem of states handling more refugees than they can deal with, but she does give the refugees themselves a voice. Often in news reports and editorials, they are treated simply as numbers, but in this account they are humans, with often horrific pasts and simple hopes for the future.
I'm conscious of the fact that I've been recommending non-fiction books up until now. Of course fiction can deal with human disasters beautifully, and one of the best examples of this is Stephen Galloway's The Cellist of Sarajevo. Narrated by four different people living through the siege, it's a novel that captures the resilience of humans, and how hope can sometimes be found even in the worst circumstances. You can read my full review of it here.
* * *
This is my first time writing this kind of post, full of recommendations and not reviews, so please do let me know if you enjoyed it, and if you would like to see more like this in the future.