Rye Barcott

There's a twofold sense of mission to Rye Barcott's do-gooder memoir since, after college and before joining the Marines (before 9/11), he almost accidentally founded a charitable organization in the huge Nairobi slum called Kibera. (If you've seen The Constant Gardner, it's the same teeming place.) As he writes in It Happened on the Way to War (Bloomsbury, $26), he simultaneously wanted to help the poor and prove his mettle as a warrior. (His father fought in Vietnam, an influence Barcott frankly acknowledges.) But Christian charity and the military are nowhere near so simple as one's initial impulses. Barcott gets mugged by the same Kenyan teens he hopes to help; and while an intelligence officer in the USMC, the locals more or less constantly lie to him, whether in Croatia, Somalia, or Iraq. Nothing is as it seems, and the introduction of Western cash—whether in the form of foundation microloans or U.S. macrobribes—only complicates things further. Very much to his credit (and attracting notice from the Gates Foundation), Barcott has built Carolina for Kibera into a nonprofit that today conducts health, economic, and educational programs in Kenya. It Happened is full of non-governmental organization (NGO) minutiae and standard military FUBAR-ism that makes the frustrations of both endeavors abundantly clear. If the test for young Barcott, now 32, was “to defy the stereotype of the soft, pampered middle-class kid,” he passed. The test for his book, of course, is to see how many post-collegians follow his path. BRIAN MILLER

Fri., April 15, 6 p.m., 2011

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