The scale of the atrocity of war is often so overwhelming that it is only through focusing on an individual that we can go part of the way to feeling the physical and emotional toll that it takes. A Marker to Measure Drift is Jacqueline’s story, an achingly personal journey through the carnage of Charles Taylor’s Liberia. When we first meet her she is eking out a life on an Aegean holiday island. We don’t know much about her except that she is near-starving, finding treasures among the tourist trash, sleeping “like a rat” in a beach-side cave, ever-wary of a group of Senegalese men whose attention she has inadvertently captured.
She is operating almost in a state of fugue. Existence – survival – is automatic. She is sustained both physically and emotionally by small kindnesses from strangers. Slowly, in jagged shards of memory, we learn that her father was a minister in Taylor’s government. His greatest mistake according to her mother was not getting them out in time; of believing too strongly and for too long. Jacqueline had led a privileged, pampered life until the rebel forces, the armies of child soldiers, arrive literally on their doorstep. We know only the sketchiest of details of her father’s role in the Taylor Government. Or how Jacqueline escaped. There was a former lover, a reporter, weary of the brutal cycle of conflict tearing at the heart of Africa apart, and of her. So she is as safe as her traumatised mental state will allow.
A Marker to Measure Drift is a beautiful, haunting book of a woman who has been pushed to the limits of endurance and who exists in a twilight world between reality and the voices that are her past. It’s impossible not to be moved by Jacqueline’s plight and Maksik’s gentle slow-drip narrative makes the final hammer-blow all the more visceral and crushing.