n the Land of Magic Soldiers: A Story of White and Black in West Africa

Summary / Reviews / Interviews


In Sierra Leone, rampaging soldiers have made a custom of hacking off the hands of their victims, then letting them live as the ultimate emblem of terror. The country is so desperate that, forty years after independence, its people long to be recolonized. 

In this book, the acclaimed author follows a set of western would-be saviors and a set of Sierra Leoneans, who take us into a land of beauty, horror, resilience and redemption. From mercenaries to missionaries, child soldiers to priests who can deflect bullets and cure AIDS, Bergner tells this racially charged story with sensitivity and precision, creating an unforgettable work of literary reportage.

A Los Angeles Times Best Book of the Year. Recipient of an Overseas Press Club Award for International Reporting and a Lettre-Ulysses Award for the Art of Reportage.


"Beautifully written…Bergner describes what is magical and what is malign in Africa as well as anyone ever has…A great novelist would be hard pressed to invent such a cast of characters."
Los Angeles Times

"Astonishing, unsettling…a remarkable book, full of piercing images and brilliantly observed details. Despite the horror, we read on, not out of moral obligation to people who live out their lives in a devastated world, nor to learn some useful geopolitical lesson, nor even from a perverse fascination with the pornography of violence, but for ourselves, because knowing these stories somehow makes us better, richer, and more intelligent human beings."
Chicago Tribune

"An eloquent witness…[Bergner has] a journalist's eye for the telling moment."
New Yorker

"A rare book indeed…Bergner's journey is arduous, dangerous, and brave—a journey in which author and reader are irrevocably changed."
Sunday Times of London

"Few political reporters lay bare the devastation, not merely of war-ravaged landscapes, but of the observer's soul. Daniel Bergner's book belongs in this tiny platoon. In the finest Orwellian tradition, it will discomfit readers across the political spectrum…A dryly ferocious, take-no-hostages style and crisply drawn characters…The best political writers may prepare us to shed our illusions. As Daniel Bergner proves, they don't demand that we abandon hope."
The Independent (UK) 

"Unusually candid…Bergner is a talented writer who has artfully captured the horror and the anarchy of the civil war that ravaged Sierra Leone and provides a sharp contrast to the current situation in Iraq."
Foreign Affairs 

"The strength of [Bergner's] spare and evocative account is his gallery of characters, whose stories weave through the book and at times intersect with one another…A reminder of the potential [for killing and healing] that we all carry within us."
New York Times Book Review

"Remarkable…First-class reporting and storytelling…A memorable, scarifying portrait of a country in terminal turmoil."
Kirkus Reviews

"In this compilation of stories from the civil war–ravaged West African country of Sierra Leone, Bergner demonstrates a deft dramatic touch."
Publishers Weekly

"Daniel Bergner is a brave man and he has written an extraordinarily good book, a compendium of surreal horrors, vastly improbable characters and very fine writing. Those who have illusions about Africa will find little comfort here…and curse Bergner for daring to examine the heart of darkness in his subject and in himself. But these things should be heard, because there is no way forward unless we stare at the truth long and hard enough for the path of salvation to be revealed. Mr. Bergner has done this for us in the insane jungles and slums of Sierra Leone. His eyes are clear, his pen is true, and his book is a truly valuable addition to the canon of post-colonial African literature."
—Rian Malan, author of My Traitor's Heart

"Bergner’s stories of Sierra Leone’s killers, victims, and rescuers are too intimate and beautifully told to be put aside. We’re seldom lucky enough to get so talented a writer to make so sustained a commitment to so difficult and neglected a subject. Bergner has created humane literature about a war of cruelty beyond belief."
—George Packer, author of Blood of Liberals