Monday, January 27, 2014

The Whistleblower by Kathryn Bolkovac with Cari Lynn

Jim [...] tromped straight to the beer, then splashed his way into the pool, all the while telling us that he had already been on one peacekeeping mission in Bosnia and had liked it so much he was signing on for another. Then, in the same sentence in which he described how scenic Bosnia was, he said, "And I know where you can get really nice twelve- to fifteen-year-olds."

This is what Kathryn Bolkovac heard before the police-force-for-hire group from the US had even left for a peacekeeping mission in Bosnia, and it would only get worse once she landed and was made the head of trafficking investigation: she found that while UN and its contracted police force from the United States was supposed to help democratize Bosnia and keep its citizens safe, it was also actively protecting those contractors who just happened to be abusing a broken country by taking part in buying trafficked women and keeping them in their bedrooms, or denying that trafficking was happening at all.

Although she does win in court at the end for having been discharged from service for whistleblowing, it is extremely depressing to see the same people who were destroying or falsifying evidence or even engaging in these illegal activities being returned to their old posts, but in another country. The corrupt people from Bosnia were later sent to Afghanistan. Great.

The horrifying topic aside, it's a great nonfiction book that has an urgency about it. Bolkovac wrote it together with an author, which was a good call: I have read historical nonfiction by people involved in the events they write about, but if they are not writers themselves their message will fall to deaf ears due to terrible or boring writing. One book I read should have been absolutely fascinating, but the author kept on repeating the same phrases and jokes he apparently found hilarious and no editor had told him to cut them out, and he also meandered into details that weren't really relevant, making the whole book a weird mixture of random anecdotes with no head or tail. It became a jibber-jabber of a senile mind, to be frank. (I am not going to tell you which book this was).

Not so with this one: there is a good structure to this book, which begins with Bolkovac fearing for her life and being hidden by her colleagues as they have heard death threats being flown around in the office. It reads like a mystery thriller with the exception that it's all real. I'm sure Bolkovac had numerous anecdotes she could have added to illustrate her plight and the whole appalling situation, but instead of oversaturation she (or the author who helped her, Lynn) decided to focus on effectiveness of the message.

I read this 229 pager in 24 hours and it was hard to put down. Of course the topic itself is captivating: how can this be happening? But the writing definitely played a part, and I'm glad that Bolkovac's story got an appropriate outcome.

You can find out more about here on her website:

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