cover image To Asmara

To Asmara

Thomas Keneally. Grand Central Publishing, $28 (304pp) ISBN 978-0-446-51542-9

Subtitled ``A Novel of Africa,'' this impassioned new work by the Australian author of Schindler's List straddles the boundary between fiction and reportage so adeptly that it almost deserves a category of its own. When journalist Timothy Darcy sees a rock star's TV appeal for still more Ethiopian famine aid, desperately needed because Eritrean rebels ambushed the first grain shipments that were sent, he decides to venture into the heart of Eritrea to write about its 25-year struggle for independence. Accompanying him into ``the hunger zone'' are an American aid worker, an aged British feminist seeking reforms in the treatment of African women, and a young Frenchwoman searching for her father, a cameraman who disappeared into Eritrea years before to become a diarist of their struggle. While Keneally makes each of their quests compelling, his real concern is with the natives of Eritrea and Ethiopia. His extensively researched depiction captures the drama of oppression, but much more as well: humor, political ironies, cultural chasms, the arid grandeur of the land, and the exhaustion and resolve that come from fighting, constantly, to survive in a world hostile to human needs. Major ad/promo. (Oct.)