As reports of east Africa's famine continue to focus on drought and crop failure -- natural rather than political causes -- Three Famines provides a sharp and timely admonition. Thomas Keneally, the Booker Prize-winning author of Schindler's Ark, addresses the history of famine through three distinct and historically significant events -- the Irish potato famine of 1845-51, the Bengal famine of 1943-44 and the Ethiopian famines of the 1970s and 1980s.
Although these famines are of different times and places, it is "as if they shared part of the same DNA". They do: human agency. The unfair distribution of food and the vested interests of the powerful cause famine, not simply food shortage.
Keneally's writing is understated, sometimes to a fault. He witnessed the famine in Ethiopia, yet refuses to tell us what it looked or felt like. The tone is distant, but the occasional glimpses of individual suffering are all the more moving for it.
Three Famines: Starvation and Politics
Perseus Books, 2011
-- By Martha Gill
© Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2011