The ShortRead of 12 August
Author: Michela Wrong
What's the story: Courtroom dramas largely fall into two categories: pop pulp, with wise-cracking legal types sticking it to 'the man', and proper courtroom dramas, like Michela Wrong's new novel.
Grappling with the thorny topic of the West's flawed history of African engagement, Borderlines follows British lawyer Paula Shackleton, an anti-heroine mourning a lost love, called to represent the African state of North Darrar in its border arbitration case at The Hague.
A finely crafted début novel, you'll gain a decent dose of education and Western guilt as you plough through this on your holiday.
Release date: 12 August
By two a.m. the glare was really beginning to bother me. African airports don’t, on the whole, go in for soft lighting, and Lira International was no exception. I didn’t need a mirror to know what I looked like in the greenish-white light given off by the fluorescent strip running the length of the ceiling: baggy-eyed, sallow, prematurely old.
He had taken me to identify my luggage so it could be removed from the pile. He had led me to Immigration to have my passport’s exit stamp crossed. He had walked me to the kiosk where I’d paid my airport tax to get the dollars returned. Each of these small transactions had been conducted in silence by the officials who had processed me twenty minutes earlier, this time without the friendly smiles. They knew now I was toxic, leprous. Then Green Eyes had brought me upstairs to this room, where the only furniture was a desk, pushed against the wall, and a plastic chair, and indicated I wait.
My first reaction had been to get out my mobile and start composing a text to Winston. I was just typing ‘detained at’ when Green Eyes held out his hand. I handed it over, unzipped my shoulder bag and took out my laptop as if to start it up. He held out his hand again, this time more brusquely, and I passed over my weathered Dell. ‘No computer. No mobile,’ said Green Eyes. ‘All is forbidden.’
‘Come,’ said Green Eyes. I followed his beckoning finger out of the room, past the café-bar, now closing, and across to the terrace, which looked out over one of the least-used runways in Africa. Green Eyes pointed to where the Alitalia flight was turning on the tarmac, testing its flaps. I knew exactly what the atmosphere would be like on board. Some destinations specialise in jolly flights, others come tinged with relief, a few drenched in heartbreak. Flights from Lira always seemed infused with a certain grim pragmatism. No one aboard would be ending a wonderful holiday or laden with souvenirs. The airport was not the chosen port of departure for fleeing locals: too visible, too monitored. The expatriates, banking generous salaries for what was judged a hardship posting, would be heading off for briefings back at Headquarters, short breaks with semi-estranged wives and children parked at boarding-school. They would be back all too soon.
‘Come,’ he said again. We walked back to my holding area, where my turquoise case crouched, like a giant scarab beetle. Funny how you can come to hate an inanimate object. In one of those side pockets nestled the passports, cash and academic certificates that I assumed lay at the root of this whole sorry affair. Someone, it was clear, had blabbed. I could guess who that might be.
For a while,
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(Images: Flickr/Kate Hiscock; Rex)