Bringing West Africa a little nearer

Deskbound Traveller is here to draw attention to the best in narrative travel writing — including writing that, in journalistic terms, has passed its sell-by date. The media’s attention span is short; if a book hasn’t been given space within the month (sometimes the week) of its publication, it’s unlikely to be given space at all. I don’t think Mark Weston’s The Ringtone and the Drum got the attention it deserved on its publication in Britain in October 2012. But then that’s partly my fault: short of reading time, and far from short of pieces from Africa, I glanced at it when a review copy came in to Telegraph Travel, and then put it on a shelf. It stayed there until I was having a clear-out last Christmas, dipped into it, and carried on reading. It’s a book about the far reaches of West Africa, a part of the world which, as Weston reminds us in his first chapter, is “nobody’s idea of a dream holiday destination”. A child there is fortunate to be born without losing its mother, to reach its first birthday and to survive a cold.

What keeps people going in such places? How do they not only keep body and soul together but maintain poise and spirit and summon the energy to make music? Weston, despite having spent years working in developing countries, decided that he didn’t really know, so he set off to find out, travelling through Guinea-Bisseau, Sierra Leone and Burkina Faso, three of the poorest and most unstable countries in the world, to document the daily round. “I felt I needed a deeper understanding of this neglected corner of the planet,” he says, “and thought that perhaps, by writing about it, I might help bring its inhabitants’ lives a little closer to ours.” In The Ringtone and the Drum, he does just that. You can read an extract under “New writing”.

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