Chasing The Flame – Sergio Vieira De Mello And The Fight To Save The World by Samantha Power
I finished this book over a month ago. It it is unusual for me to take thirty days to review a book. However, this book continues to ricochet through my being.
Admittedly, Samantha‘s last book, The Pulitzer Prize winning “A Problem From Hell – America and an Age of Genocide” occupies a prominent place in my personal library. Chasing The Flame – Sergio Vieira De Mello And The Fight To Save The World” has earned the space next to her former book.
Once I began, I couldn’t put Chasing The Flame down. Power has a literary and researcher’s skill that that is unequivocally unique. The documentation and sheer magnitude of the effort are mind-boggling. Why? Why, one may ask would someone take the 4 years it took to write this story?
After completing the book and publishing this review on Amazon, Samantha read it and was kind enough to send me the following:
Hi there Bill:
i just want to thank you for your thoughtful and immensely generous review of the sergio book on the amazon site. i haven’t found people “got” this book to quite the same extent that they got the last one, so yours was a hugely gratifying note to come across. thank you for taking the time to reflect so intensely on your experience of the book. you made one writer’s day.
For me, versus many other reviewers, the lessons of Vieira de Mello’s life and the most poignant aspects of the book are NOT the failures and demise of the U.N.
Contradictions – the human experience is one inhabited by contradictions. Some of those contradictions are self-initiated and self-imposed. Others are systemic and emanate from socio-economic, social structural inequities that evidence themselves throughout human history. Our response to these contradictions (as individuals, groups, organizations and government entities of all types) is particularly poignant. Vieira de Mello’s life and career are evidence of that. This book is not an end to the discussion of issues it covers…it’s a chronicle of a whole host of issues we can and must begin to discuss and act upon.
The human capacity for evil – Once again, Power chronicles this truth. I remain distressed at the ongoing capacity we as a species have for ignoring human atrocity and our penchant for “standing by” and/or failing to respond immediately and adequately to these situations as they arise — as well as our penchant to ignore the conditions that continue to spawn them.
The United Nations – I am unequivocally convinced that the charter of the U.N. has been bastardized into a current state that has diluted the essential capabilities that the world currently requires from it. It’s not the UN’s fault. Frankly, it’s ours and the member governments that comprise it. I am also hopeful that a restoration/re-engineering of the U.N. (long overdue) newly empowered and FULLY funded has the unrealized potential to prevent and address vastly more effectively the human suffering that is thriving all around our planet.(with prognostications of it’s ever increasing frequency and depth of seriousness).
The face and being of anger seems to have a myriad of revitalized and new expressions of both form and substance here on Earth today. As stated by Jean-Salim Kanaan, a French-Egyptian political officer stationed in Iraq: ” And God knows how much harm angry people can do.”(p.436). We seem to have a tendency that has evolved with NGO’s where we avoid the angry people (particularly the one’s who are armed and inflicting death and destruction on innocent people). Vieira de Mello’s life is evidence of an approach to the contrary. He sought out these people and spoke directly to them — unarmed. Power’s work has substantive implications for the urgent genesis of a new approach by the U.S. and others to foreign policy and international diplomacy.
Another incredibly poignant truth that we must revisit that emanated from the life of Vieria de Mello is captured in the following: “Although Vieira de Mello became an explicit advocate for human rights late in his career, he had lobbied on behalf of human beings for decades.After his death, the quality of his that was most often admired was his regard for individuals. His colleagues took note of how surprisingly rare it was, even in the world of humanitarianism, to find and official who actually looked out for human beings, one by one, as he or she encountered them.” (p.530). This attribute of Vieira de Mello’s life is pregnant with meaning for the individual citizen of planet Earth today. Imagine what might be possible if people began to act upon the quote above and actively begin to seek out the rescue of orphaned children, refugees etc. who require a new chance at life via removal from the hell of their current life conditions? — 1@aTime.
Perhaps we’re being encouraged by Vieira de Mello’s life to consider new ways of living — I’m speaking to those who have a home, resources, seats at the kitchen table and a refrigerator with food in it. In a world where the delta between the haves and have-nots is becoming increasingly wider, the individual with resources continues to be ensconced comfortably with increasing social distance from the suffering that inhabits this planet. Vieira de Mello’s life story begs the questions: “What can (must) I do? How can I help? Can I become a part of the solution?”
Vieira de Mello’s statement that, “We live in fearful times and fear is a bad advisor” (p. 364) is a clarion call to a reawakening from the darkness of the nightmare that has cast it’s pall over all of us, particularly during the past eight years. Hope and dreaming of new possibilities always sheds the light that destroys fear. However, it must be accompanied by new, risky, courageous forms of action that Vieria de Mello’s life demonstrates for us all.
“Humanitarian crises are always political crises” (p. 219) is a truth revealed throughout the life of Vieira de Mello. Again, a wholesale readjustment in the thought processes and actions of governments and our approach to human rights atrocities (and their prevention) continues to be a tremendous challenge, yet an opportunity, during this, the 21st century.
For all those who are trumpeting their excitement over the possibility of a forthcoming movie about this book — I remain reluctant. There is simply no substitute for reading this superbly crafted literary art form. Samantha Power has dedicated her life to bringing us Pulitzer Prize caliber insights into the plight of human rights atrocities that continue to decimate this planet….now chronicling the amazing life of one of the foremost participants in the amelioration of this devastating reality – Vieira de Mello’s story Chasing The Flame deserves the same serious Pulitzer consideration as well.
I was changed by this book. You will be too. Buy it, Savor it. Ponder it. Get involved. Speak out. We can change this world. Together.