Former Hot Press contributor Helena Mulkerns spent many years working in UN peacekeeping missions in Central America, Africa and Afghanistan, experiences she has used to great effect in this linked short-story collection set among civilians working in conflict zones.
‘Ferenji’ is an old Arabic word meaning ‘foreigners’, and most of Mulkerns’ characters – journalists, peacekeepers, humanitarian workers – are strangers in very strange lands. The powerful title story pits a lone aid worker against an inhumane African bureaucratic system.
Elsewhere, a young soldier finds a terrified child in a mindfield; a doomed love affair crashes in a ghost resort; a homecoming Irish volunteer is haunted by what he has witnessed; and a cat is smuggled onto an aid aircraft. The shortest piece, ‘Blue Tarpaulin’, is narrated by the titular object.
Mulkerns is a skilled writer and the best of these clever, nuanced and provocative stories will invoke feelings of rage, sadness and despair.