Cain, Kenneth 1966(?)-
Cain, Kenneth 1966(?)-
PERSONAL: Born c. 1966. Education: Harvard Law School, graduate, 1991.
ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o Author Mail, Hyperion Editorial Department, 77 W. 66th St., 11th Floor, New York, NY 10023.
AWARDS, HONORS: Council on Foreign Relations, fellowship; National Magazine Award nomination for reporting.
(With Heidi Postlewait and Andrew Thomson) Emergency Sex and Other Desperate Measures: A True Story from Hell on Earth, Hyperion (New York, NY), 2004.
Contributor of articles to periodicals, including Human Rights Quarterly.
ADAPTATIONS: Film rights to Emergency Sex and Other Desperate Measures were bought by Miramax TV.
SIDELIGHTS: Upon graduating from Harvard Law School in 1991, Kenneth Cain knew that he was not cut out to be a corporate lawyer. Instead he signed on to work as a human rights monitor for the United Nations, a life-transforming experience he describes in the memoir Emergency Sex and Other Desperate Measures: A True Story from Hell on Earth, co-authored with American social worker Heidi Postlewait and New Zealand physician Andrew Thomson. During his nearly six-year tenure with the United Nations, Cain worked as a civilian attached to U.N. peacekeeping forces in Somalia, Rwanda, Haiti, and Liberia, investigating alleged war crimes. During this time he met and befriended Postlewait and Thomson.
By the time Cain had finished his work in Liberia, he was disenchanted. "I felt I was staring the worst, most horrible forms of injustice in the face and what could I do with it?" he recalled to Nancy Knapp in the Harvard Law Bulletin. After returning to the United States, Cain quit his job with the United Nations, because, as he told Barbara Crossette of U.N. Wire, "I came to believe that meaningful human rights work only happens outside the official structure of the organization." Cain instead opted for the might of the pen. "I tried to fight the bureaucracy of the U.N. but that didn't work, so I felt the only weapon I had left was to write an honest critique," he told Knapp. With the help of a fellowship from the Council on Foreign Affairs, Cain wrote a 19,000-word chronicle of the systematic rape, torture, murder, and cannibalism that took place during the Liberian civil war; he also analyzed the international community's failure to address human-rights abuses in a country that had little strategic importance. Although Cain had no previous reporting experience, his writing was so compelling that the article was snapped up by Human Rights Quarterly and, after publication in 1999, nominated for a prestigious National Magazine Award in the reporting category.
When Cain, Postelwait, and Thomson later met in a New York restaurant, they began to reminiscence about their experiences abroad and decided to collaborate on a memoir; yet the work turned into something else—an indictment of the ineptitude of some U.N. workers and decision makers. Emergency Sex and Other Desperate Measures, which contains "vivid and intimate first-person accounts that range from a few paragraphs to fifteen pages," to quote Sheri Fink of Wilson Quarterly, both caused controversy and garnered praise. Among the work's admirers, Booklist reviewer David Pitt described it as "unique and rewarding," and a Publishers Weekly reviewer called it "infuriating, heart-wrenching and well written".
As one would expect, such a scathing work earned a negative response from some U.N. representatives, including spokesman Fred Eckard, who told Los Angeles Times reporter Maggie Farley, "Frankly, we found it a sensational and selective account of peacekeeping." Yet, Shashi Tharoor, the U.N. undersecretary-general for public information in charge of peacekeeping efforts in the former Yugoslavia during the 1990s, told Farley that the book presents a view of the United Nations during a transition period, "It reflects a period when the U.N. was scrambling—we went from 5,000 people to 80,000 in two years. Peacekeeping was trying to catch up with itself, and that was like trying to fix the engine on a moving train." That acknowledged, Tharoor contended, as reported by Farley, that employees such as Postlewait and Thomson, who were still on the U.N. payroll, were being disloyal by making their criticism public. Perhaps Crossette expressed the most balanced review, "For those of use who have seen the United Nations working in some of the toughest places … the book certainly does seem exaggerated, or at least not a full or fair story…. But on the other hand, reporters do hear similar tales of miscast U.N. officials and meet mission staff in various places who seem inept or disinterested, sometimes in the most delicate operations." Since the 1990s, the United Nations has made efforts to improve training and placement of its workers.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, March 15, 2004, David Pitt, review of Emergency Sex and Other Desperate Measures: A True Story from Hell on Earth, p. 1260.
Harvard Law Bulletin, fall, 2000, Nancy Knapp, "Chronicle of a Forgotten War."
Kirkus Reviews, April 1, 2004, review of Emergency Sex and Other Desperate Measures, p. 307.
Los Angeles Times, October 18, 2004, Maggie Farley, "The Jaded, Seamy Side of Peace," p. E1.
Newsweek International, June 21, 2004, Michael Hastings, review of Emergency Sex and Other Desperate Measures, p. 69.
Publishers Weekly, March 8, 2004, review of Emergency Sex and Other Desperate Measures, p. 57.
Village Voice, March 28, 2000, "The Liberian Avenger," p. 40.
Wilson Quarterly, summer, 2004, Sheri Fink, review of Emergency Sex and Other Desperate Measures, pp. 119-120.
U.N. Wire Online, http://www.unwire.org/ (June 14, 2004), Barbara Crossette, "When Peacekeeping Turns to Despair."