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Original Essays | September 18, 2014 0 comments
On a hot July evening years ago, my Toyota Tercel overheated on a flat stretch of highway north of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. A steam geyser shot up from... Continue »
Alex PerryDescribe your latest project.
I'm a reporter, and Falling off the Edge is a reporter's book. It takes bits and pieces from my experiences in the last decade in war zones and the developing world and draws from them a consistent picture of globalization. It is a far more tumultuous process than is commonly understood. A lot of our wars and social conflict have their roots in globalization; a lot of others have a relation to it.
The book sets out the common dynamic that links many conflicts essentially that globalization exacerbates inequality and squashes identity, which breeds resentment, which in turn can lead to strife. Boom, then bang. In later chapters, I try to show how that same basic story plays out, in varying ways with varying outcomes, on the ground, from China to India to South Africa, to the pirates of the Malacca Straits, Darfur, Somalia, Nepal, Afghanistan, Iraq you name it. And try also to entertain with some compelling stories along the way.
The reason I wrote it is because the longer you spend on the ground observing globalization, the more many of the more popular theories about it begin to feel misplaced, or at least poorly researched. And you realize, of course, that and I'm terribly afraid of being rude here, but in the end I think it has to be said most of them are written in the West by people who haven't traveled enough. As a beat reporter in Britain, I was always told: "If you want to know, go." It stands to reason, right? And if you want to get globalization, you have to travel the world. It's amazing how few of our commentators have. I wouldn't claim to have comprehensively covered the world I'm not sure anybody can in a lifetime. But my job has sent me further and deeper than most, and when I read theses about places where I'd been many of which, I'm afraid, are plain wrong I realized that my experiences had value.
Man Out of Time.
What's the strangest or most interesting job you've ever had?
What was your first job in journalism?
Writers are better liars than other people: true or false?
In nonfiction, truth is the unassailable standard. You check everything you do, and check again. Otherwise there's no point. I'm interested in the way things are. Truth is fascinating you really couldn't make it up. That said, I'm very aware that a reporter's idea of the truth is probably always subjective. You can't escape the position from which you look at the world. You just do your best to see the other angles, too.
In nonfiction, of course, truth is a point of principle, too. I'd say that's true for nearly all journalists. There are different ways to present the truth, of course. The British press that I grew up with specialises in taking the facts and stretching them and arranging them in such a way as to create the most sensational impact. It's a commercial technique, and is often brilliantly executed in Britain, but it's not for me. I'm more comfortable with the American way of journalism, which is less sensational though the (sometimes valid) counter-charge is that that can also make it dull. The solution is to find stories that are intrinsically interesting, rather than try to make a dull story more compelling.
Which is a very roundabout way of saying that I'm a poor liar. I have a boorish attachment to the truth. Often to the point of being extremely impolitic. I'm also a compulsive storyteller. I would have made a very bad spy.
What are your favorite places?
Essentials for the road?
How do you relax?
Have you ever made a literary pilgrimage?
We tied the boat up a mile downriver. I think Julian phoned to say sorry.
So, which commentators and authors do you like?
Describe the best breakfast of your life.
What is your idea of absolute happiness?
Why do you write?
÷ ÷ ÷
Alex Perry is Time's Africa Bureau Chief, based in Cape Town. From 2002 to 2006, he was South Asia bureau chief, based in New Delhi, and covering locations from Afghanistan to Burma. He has won several journalism awards, and his report from the battle at Mazar-i-Sharif in Afghanistan was featured in The Best American Magazine Writing 2002.