Monday, December 6, 2010

Review : Djibouti

Djibouti by Elmore Leonard. William Morrow, 2010. (Published October 12)

[Source: Goodread First Reads]

Djibouti follows documentary filmmaker, Dara Barr, and her right-hand man, Xavier LeBo, in a quest to make a documentary about Somali pirates. They travel to Djibouti and spend several weeks at sea gathering footage. The book begins with Dara's arrival in Djibouti, but once they set off on their rented boat, Leonard cuts back to their return to Djibouti. Through the majority of the novel, Dara and Xavier's view points are conveyed through a review of this footage. The reader isn't reading the events firsthand, but reads them through the lenses of Dara and Xavier's hindsight. The reader does, however, get to know what happens outside of the film footage. After hearing from Dara and Xavier, the reader is taken back to the action to see the roles of the other characters play out.

I know, this is sounding really complicated and hard to follow. While I may not be explaining it well, this narrative device isn't hard to follow as a reader. It's really an interesting concept and succeeds in conveying the story. At the end, I felt like I'd just read the rough cut of a film. Leonard is extremely clever in his execution.

That being said, I did have trouble getting into Djibouti at first. From the opening page, I found Xavier's dialect jarring. I had to re-read the first page a few times to get the rhythm of his speech, which does not pay much attention, if any, to sentence structure. I kept getting confused by words missing from sentences. I did get used to it after awhile, but never felt completely comfortable with it. My other nit-picky complaint is the lack of a map. I'm not very familiar, okay, not at all familiar, with the geography of the region in which the story takes place. I finally used my smartphone to pull up a map so I could see where the heck Djibouti is (just north of Somalia in the Horn of Africa).

Despite these complaints, I found myself continuing to read. I think I was fascinated by the subject matter and the way in which the story was being told. This is the first book by Elmore Leonard I've ever read, and I'd be willing to read another in future. I've seen some mixed reviews out there, but I think Djibouti is well-executed despites its oddities. If you are a true Leonard fan or are intrigued by the rough cut film narrative device, you should read Djibouti. Otherwise, you can probably move it to the bottom of your TBR pile.


  1. What a wonderful review to, what seems, like a fascinating book.

    I twitted this review to my following.

  2. Sometimes dialogue like that works for me and sometimes it doesn't. The book sounds interesting enough that I'd be willing to give it a try.

  3. Sounds very interesting but probably not for me. I appreciate your thoughts- I've seen Djibouti around and I'm glad to know more about it!

  4. I love saying the name Djibouti. I probably would NOT like to visit though.