I had the pleasure of knowing about the launch of J.’s second book, M4 (Missionary, Mercenary, Mystic and Misfit), well in advance of it becoming available to the public. So I was eager to get a copy for a long time, which I did the very first night it was available on Kindle. Oh, such a nice feeling to see it in my screen!
Let me start this review by saying that M4 is, more than anything, an excellent piece of literature. It is a great contribution to humanitarian fiction. It flows, it really does. No effort to go back to it every now and then while on deployment. Despite my mind being like a waterfall with a myriad thoughts competing for my attention before I went to sleep every night, the book caught my full attention every time I turned on my Kindle in bed.
The book is light enough to be considered a recreational read, but is actually a great example of edutainment. In that, it strikes a balance that is hard to achieve in my view. It is not easy to make the reader ‘enjoy the ride’ while also help them to think deeper about how they work, the challenges they face as an aid worker, and reflect on the big picture for the aid industry as a whole. M4 does all of that. Plus it makes you giggle from time to time with small colourful scenes here and there.
Getting down to its core, the book provides a great platform to analyse the contradictions of the aid industry. It shows how the ’good intentions‘ of some, the hard work of others, and the typical ’business as usual‘ approach of many more – are all happening at the same time in parallel in the industry. The unavoidable ‘expat versus local’ power dynamic is laid bare in crystal clarity by the book. The pressure for money and organisational success which, sceptre-like, seems to haunt us all and holds us in a grip from which it seems there can be no redemption, is a topic that is also treated deftly by the book.
It struck me how the book presents ‘the good, the bad and the ugly’ of the aid industry without ever adopting a cynical perspective, and merely acts as an observer of a complex picture.
I think M4 is essential reading, especially for donors looking to learn and better understand the dynamics of the aid industry from the aid worker’s perspective, particularly at this time when ‘aid effectiveness’ is on everyone’s agenda.
The book gives a much more ‘real’ picture of the aid industry compared to J.’s first book, Disastrous Passion, especially in terms of the decisions and trade-offs that professional aid workers have to routinely make to survive in the industry’s harsh environment. It points towards an answer to the question – Who benefits from the aid industry? –that can help us all to reflect upon the real consequences of our decisions for those we are supposed to serve.
Anyway, you really have to read this one. Whether you are a student, aid worker in ‘the field’ or HQ based, expat or local, donor, freelance consultant or researcher, this book will make you have fun while simultaneously supporting you to reflect deeply on the dynamics of the aid industry affecting you and your work. So get your copy and share your views in the comments section. Enjoy the ride!