On South Africa’s Diamond Coast, 13-year-old Msizi carefully fits his carrier pigeon Bartholomew into his lunch box. There, nestled between a sandwich and a bag of chips, Bartholomew will be taken into the diamond mine where Msizi works. If luck is with him, if the x-ray is a dummy and the sky is bright, Msizi will attach small diamond-stuffed bags to Bartholomew and release him with the fervent wish that this time, this pigeon will make it home. There is a bounty on Bartholomew, a target on his back, for in diamond country pigeons are executed.
The story of Msizi and Bartholomew is threaded through Matthew Frank’s disturbing yet intriguing book about the diamond industry, Flight of the Diamond Smugglers. While visiting the “Big Hole,” a huge open pit diamond mine in Kimberley, Frank became curious about the history of diamond mines. His investigation took him into an eerie world of closed towns, bleak landscapes, frightened people and company secrets. The company, in this case De Beers, whose control over the land and people on the Diamond Coast is astonishing.
Flight of the Diamond Smugglers is not what I expected. Frank writes as a novelist would about pigeon and diamond lore. He writes as a memoirist would about his wife and their grief over their miscarriages. He writes as a journalist would about diamond smuggling and the De Beers company. In other words, it isn’t your typical true crime book. Nevertheless, I was caught up in this thought-provoking look at the greedy, dangerous world of diamond mines and smuggling.