One of France's most celebrated intellectuals and author of the French bestseller Who Killed Daniel Pearl?
reports on five currently forgotten or marginalized war zones—Angola, Sri Lanka, Burundi, Colombia and the Sudan—and elaborates his eyewitness accounts with philosophizing about genocide, terrorism and the nature of history. The first part is philosophical travelogue, richly descriptive and highly visual in style. A lyrical yet disciplined commentator, Lévy teases out the underlying logic and cultural specificity of each site of devastation. Human encounters, such as a meeting with a young female Tamil would-be suicide bomber on the run or an interview with a jittery Marxist-Leninist revolutionary leader in Colombia, are full of intelligent observation. The two million dead of Sudan haunt the ghost towns Lévy describes, and he never spares us details of atrocities. Burundi, a scene of total desolation, comes to represent his degree zero of despair. In the book's second part, the author mingles his intellectual autobiography (early Maoist activism, his first war reporting in Bangladesh) with essays on Hegelian definitions of history, the philosophy of ruins, war nostalgia, dehumanization, the laws of war and self-reflexive musings on the role of journalism. In these stylishly fragmented discussions he draws on readings in Nietzsche, Sartre, Bataille, Benjamin, Levinas and Foucault as well as on fiction and film. Mandell's translation preserves a singularly French style of lofty questioning that some readers may find slightly dizzying, even while they glean much from his erudite contemplation of the developing world's most tragic regions. (Apr.)