About IMFO  |  Order the Book | Sample Pages | Financial Crises | Useful Links |  About the Author

page 2 of 4

It had all started innocently enough, some seven years ago, in the drafty drawing room of a Sussex country house. Sophia was dining with her boyfriend Simon and his parents. It was the first time she’d met them, and the last. As the evening progressed from bad to worse, Sophia couldn’t decide which was more painful: the forced joviality of Simon’s father or the frigid politeness of his mother. One thing was clear, though. Ten years of boarding school in England and an accent sculpted to perfection still hadn’t made Sophia “English” enough to fit into their tidy little society. Simon had tried to shrug it off as Mother being her usual difficult self, but Sophia, deeply hurt, ended the relationship abruptly.

And yet, Sophia mused, peering at the inky sky through the cabin window, perhaps she should have known all along the futility of trying to fit in, for that night at Simon’s had marked the end of her attempts at assimilation, not the beginning of her alienation. That had started earlier—much earlier. Twenty years ago? Twenty-five? Sophia couldn’t have been more than eight or nine, packed off to boarding school in England, mistrusted because she was foreign, pitied because she was an orphan. Or close enough. Daddy had died a couple of years before, and her stepmother had been too busy in Paris or Geneva or Monte Carlo to claim Sophia for half-term breaks. How she dreaded those breaks—hanging about while the headmistress phoned up parents trying to place Sophia with someone, anyone, even girls whom she detested. How she despised the other girls at school; how she longed to be one of them, too.

All through her school years, Sophia had struggled to fit in, to be one of the girls, to deny her alien roots and heritage. Then, in the pain of rejection by Simon’s family, she became equally determined to know her native country, abandoned those many years ago. She went on a reading binge, ploughing through everything she could find about her people, her history, her country, even digging up old United Nations reports from the nineteen-eighties that chronicled the human rights abuses already taking place.

The troubles in her country had started soon after Independence. At first, the government was too bristling with post-colonial pride to pay attention to anything a small ethnic minority in the north-east corner of the country said or did. But then they started discovering the ores and heavy metals in the region; there were lucrative foreign mining contracts to be awarded, fortunes to be made. Gradually, all this nonsense about autonomy and self-determination and—most egregious of all—separate statehood for the ethnic minority began to matter, and matter very much.

With sovereign brutality, the government clamped down. The Sedition Law (1977), the Proclamation of Territorial Integrity (1979), the Anti-terrorism Act (1984, amended 2002), and a dozen other laws and decrees mandated a single language, a single religion, a single country. Anyone daring to suggest otherwise or questioning the Republic or, God forbid, insulting the President, found himself thrown in jail for terms stretching two to twenty years.

In those days, the country was a front-line state in the War Against Communism, the President a stalwart ally of the West. In return, Western governments were willing to sell him the latest military toys and to overlook any oppression, any abuse, as long as they could operate their airbases and early warning stations from the northern territories. After the Cold War the regime had fallen into disfavour with the West, and there was hope that international pressure might force it to mend its ways. The President had shown the good sense to keep a low profile, throwing the occasional bone to foreign journalists and human rights organizations—release of a long-time prisoner of conscience, promise of electoral reforms—while denying entry visas to the more meddlesome ones.

1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | print this

About IMFO  | Order the Book | Sample Pages | Financial Crises | Useful Links |  About the Author