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A Journey to the Dark Heart of Nameless…

A Journey to the Dark Heart of Nameless Unspeakable Evil: Charities,…

by Jane Bussmann

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Africa (2) Hollywood (2) humor (1) memoir (1) Uganda (1)



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When I first read this irreverent, eye-opening memoir in 2009 it had a different and I think slightly better title, The Worst Date Ever: War Crimes, Hollywood Heart-Throbs and Other Abominations, but after reading a review of it in the Sunday Times Literary Supplement I had to order my copy from Amazon.UK because it wasn’t out in the US. Now with this revised title it’s available stateside, and after scan reading through an advanced review copy of the new version it looks like it’s largely the same lively fantastic book. The changes I saw are all minor: a few chapter names are different, there is an updated timeline at the end, and a glossary has been included to explain Brit-speak to us Yanks.

Author Jane Bussmann is a comedian and it shows in her very witty writing, but there is some grim material in here and Bussmann manages the quite amazing trick of being both tremendously funny and deadly serious at almost the same time.

As she tells it, Bussmann got tired of hanging around Hollywood during 2003-2006, which she calls the Golden Age of Stupid, interviewing mostly useless (as she calls them) celebrities. Fed up she decides to radically change her life by following a peace negotiator (who’s really cute and certainly very useful) to Uganda so she can write an article about him, but after scraping together the money for a plane ticket he doesn't show up. Not for a month or two anyway--he's back in Hollywood. Bussmann is left to kill time in a cheap Ugandan hostel, so she decides to try doing some investigative fieldwork while she waits for the chance to interview and hopefully date her negotiator. She teaches scriptwriting at an AIDs orphanage, meets numbed victims of the warlord Joseph Kony, and talks to anyone--even very scary people--who might be able to help her figure out why for 25 years the Ugandan army has been unable to prevent Kony from kidnapping children as young as four and forcing them to fight in his militia.

Being a celebrity journalist isn't completely wasted preparation for these adventures. Both smug Hollywood stars and menacing army colonels become friendly and helpful after she asks them her two work-saving Magic Questions--"You're in amazing shape, what's your secret?" and "We all know what you're famous for, but how does it make you feel when you're not appreciated for your inner talents?"

The peace negotiator eventually shows up, but the interview/date she hoped for doesn't work out the way she planned. The resulting book, however, is a great success. The humor, verve, and passion in this mind-blowing account of traipsing around Africa kept me reading into the wee hours of the night, and I’m very glad this memoir is now being released on my side of the Atlantic.

I purchased my own UK copy of this book in 2009, and I read a free advanced review copy of of its updated version provided by the publisher through NetGalley. ( )
  Jaylia3 | Aug 9, 2014 |
It’s hard to sum up in a few words what this book is all about. I think the best characterization is a real-life Bridget Jones turns activist.

When the book opens, Jane Bussman is an English entertainment journalist working in Hollywood. Her encounters with Ashton Kutcher and other celebrities are hilarious. Her whole take on the American entertainment industry is cynical and sarcastic in the best way. One day, she’s had enough of interviewing vapid celebrities and decides she wants to become one of the Useful People. She comes across John human rights activist John Prendergast’s photo in a magazine. He’s very attractive so she decides that getting an interview with him would serve a double purpose – writing an article about a Useful Person and getting to meet a hot guy.

She gets so wrapped up in trying to engineer ways to spend more time with John, that she ends up in Uganda. She comes there very ignorant of the political situation and starts out as a fairly spoiled foreigner. The longer she’s there, the more she uncovers about the corruption in the Ugandan government and the United States’ role in it. She maintains her British wit throughout though and it helps the reader stomach the atrocities that are going on in that county, like kidnapping children and turning them into soldiers and using rape as a weapon of war.

I thought this was a unique concept for a book. On its face, it seems contradictory – how can a memoir about time in a country that has child soldiers and uses rape as a weapon for war be humorous as well? In this case it works. And while Jane is self-deprecating and funny, she takes the situation in Uganda very seriously and is just as shocked as the reader by the goings on. Because she starts her journey with such little knowledge, her explanations are very easy to understand. I learned a lot about Uganda from reading this book and was thoroughly entertained as well. ( )
  mcelhra | Apr 23, 2014 |
Jane Bussmann, a dispirited celebrity reporter with an irreverent sense of humor, decides to become one of the “useful people” after an encounter with Ashton Kutcher and his lawyer. She discovers a tireless human rights activist, John Prendergast, and doggedly pursues ventures that would allow her to write about his efforts in Africa. During her trip to Uganda, she discovers that the links between government, despotic rebel leaders and aid agencies are a bit more complicated and crooked than she ever imagined. This book contains tough descriptions of child kidnapping, sex slaves and violence but the overall tone remains that of a tragic comedy. Jane Bussmann remains searingly honest about the situation and I found myself laughing at her observations…not an easy feat with such a desperate subject. This is one of the best books that I have read about the contradictions of aid agencies in developing countries and I appreciate the author’s approach to writing about the situation. I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. ( )
  LissaJ | Apr 21, 2014 |
This is the story of how a jaded, bitter British comedy/entertainment writer in Hollywood failed to sell her screenplays and ended up reporting on the barbaric Joseph Kony in Uganda. That seems like screenplay enough, but Bussmann decorates it with jaundiced observations, cultural (American and British) allusions, and plenty of sarcasm. And oh yes, it’s massively funny.

She accurately portrays the entertainment industry as the Golden Age of Stupid in Hollywood, governed by every breath from Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears. Where institutional memory is non existent and “you’re a genius in Hollywood for borrowing ideas from before 1990”. Her perspective is always jaded. She describes a hotel as “one of those mausoleum business hotels where the staff flirt in order to stave off suicide.” She had my undivided attention.

After the whirlwind, lacerating opening in Hollywood, I did not expect the book to have redeeming social value, a point, or a conclusion. But Bussmann sweeps readers along on a trip to Uganda, in total ignorance and for the wrong reasons. It goes from one disaster to another, and it changes her, visibly, mentally, and attitudinally. Jade becomes rage.

Skillfully, Bussmann tones the sarcasm, the brand awareness and the superficiality down to where it fits the horrendous reality of Uganda in the grip of kleptocracy. Cognitive dissonance gives way to revelations of truth. Her discoveries are our discoveries, her experiences our experiences, her education our education. As the corruption, cruelty and lies take over the story, she comes to her epiphany: “Finally, nothing was funny.” The daily narcissistic lie of Hollywood is pondscum compared to the ocean of corruption that is Uganda.

She comes out of it 1) alive, 2) with some recognition, and 3) with her sense of humor reconstituted. The endnotes are largely superfluous, but there is a glossary for navel-gazing Americans to get the British references. And that’s funny too. This book turns out to be both humorous and worthwhile: a rare bird, from a perceptive, driven achiever. Which, ironically, is something she thought she’d never be.
Makes it even better. ( )
  DavidWineberg | Feb 28, 2014 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0988879840, Hardcover)

"So funny you almost feel guilty laughing."—Reuters

"The funniest thing we've ever read."—InStyle

"Very funny. Jane's got a death wish."—Matt Stone, co-creator of South Park

"This is one of the funniest books I've read for a long while."—Sunday Times

"This book will change your life."—Mirror (five stars)

After scriptwriter Jane Bussmann moves to Hollywood, she realizes her day job interviewing celebrities sucks. She goes to Africa in search of a dreamy activist and ends up uncovering Joseph Kony's crimes.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:08:49 -0400)

"In this uproariously funny memoir-meets-travelogue, British comedy writer Bussmann (Worst Date Ever) chronicles her transition from celebrity gossip columnist to foreign news correspondent, driven by a hilariously misguided crush on a peace activist. She takes readers into Los Angeles's ''Golden Age of Stupid,'' where she tries desperately to fail out of her day job by inventing celebrity interviews entirely until a threatened lawsuit from Ashton Kutcher leads to major changes. After interviewing former White House director of African affairs John Prendergast, Bussmann is compelled by his charm and the Kony story to ''scam [her] way to Africa,'' ultimately selling a piece to Britain's Sunday Times. Arriving in Kampala, Bussmann is greeted by an abstinence-promoting billboard paid for by U.S. governmental aid, and stories of imprisoned journalists, and fraudulent elections. As she begins to investigate, Bussmann discovers Ugandan military sabotaging peace talks and turning a blind eye to an attack on a girls' school, among other corruption. Bussmann's razor-sharp wit and unapologetic narcissism may seem incongruous with the grim subject matter, but the dark humor provides an anchor of sanity to author and reader alike."--Publisher's description.… (more)

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