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May 21, 2009

Emergency Sex

That's a book title I felt a little bit weird reading on the subway.

Emergency Sex (and other desperate measures) is the autobiographical story of UN workers Kenneth Cain, Heidi Postlewait and Andrew Thomson. The three friends, who take turns being narrator, met in Phnom Penh in 1990. They stayed in touch as they worked for the UN in Cambodia, Haiti, Rwanda, Liberia and Bosnia throughout the violent nineties.

"Andrew wanted to bind the wounds of innocent war victims, hoping to find grace. Heidi embraced the freedom-born-of-emergency determined to liberate herself and, in the process, as many women as she could touch. I planned to harness the power of an ascendant America to personally undo the Holocaust. Don't laugh. We were young." - Kenneth Cain, Brooklyn, New York, April 2003

I've always felt that since people have endured so much suffering, and others have had to witness peoples' suffering first-hand, the least I can do is read about it years later without giving up. But unfortunately - perhaps fortunately, as it's probably a sign of sanity - reading novel-length texts about torture, war, fear and despair is simply no fun.

With this book, however, I never considered giving up. It's fast-paced to the point of feeling like it's written for the screen, but more importantly, the characters are real people. It's a true story not just because it's non-fiction, but because it includes the narrators' mistakes, doubts, pre-peacekeeping past, parties - and yes, their hook-ups. They're journal-writers, not feature reporters. The lighthearted anecdotes are a necessary break from the sometimes disgusting descriptions of violence, but they also provide a backdrop that feels realistic to me: You clean up the mess after unspeakable terror by day, but when night falls, you still have crushes, friendships and a need to unwind and lead a kind of life.

Posted by Julie at May 21, 2009 12:33 AM

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