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William Finnegan is the author of Cold New World, A Complicated War, Dateline Soweto, and Crossing the Line. He has twice been a National Magazine Award finalist and has won numerous journalism awards, including two Overseas Press Club awards since 2009. A staff writer at The New Yorker since 1987, he lives in Manhattan.
Surfing only looks like a sport. To devotees, it is something else entirely: a beautiful addiction, a mental and physical study, a passionate way of life. William Finnegan first started surfing as a young boy in California and Hawaii. Barbarian Days is his immersive memoir of a life spent travelling the world chasing waves through the South Pacific, Australia, Asia, Africa and beyond. Finnegan describes the edgy yet enduring brotherhood forged among the swell of the surf; and recalling his own apprenticeship to the world's most famous and challenging waves, he considers the intense relationship formed between man, board and water. Barbarian Days is an old-school adventure story, a social history, an extraordinary exploration of one man's gradual mastering of an exacting and little-understood art. It is a memoir of dangerous obsession and enchantment.
Dateline Soweto documents the working lives of black South African reporters caught between the mistrust of militant blacks, police harassment, and white editors who - fearing government disapproval - may not print the stories these reporters risk their lives to get. William Finnegan revisited several of these reporters during the May 1994 election and describes their post-apartheid working experience in a new preface and epilogue.
Powerful, instructive, and full of humanity, this book challenges the current understanding of the war that has turned Mozambique - a naturally rich country - into the world's poorest nation. Before going to Mozambique, William Finnegan saw the war, like so many foreign observers, through a South African lens, viewing the conflict as apartheid's 'forward defense'. This lens was shattered by what he witnessed and what he heard from Mozambicans, especially those who had lived with the bandidos armado, the 'armed bandits' otherwise known as the Renamo rebels. The shifting, wrenching, ground-level stories that people told combine to form an account of the war more local and nuanced, more complex, more African - than anything that has been politically convenient to describe. A Complicated War combines frontline reporting, personal narrative, political analysis, and comparative scholarship to present a picture of a Mozambique harrowed by profound local conflicts - ethnic, religious, political and personal. Finnegan writes that South Africa's domination and destabilization are basic elements of Mozambique's plight, but he offers a subtle description and analysis that will allow us to see the post-apartheid region from a new, more realistic, if less comfortable, point of view.