Choke Valley

Frank Westerman


Choke Valley

21 August 1986: in the evening, at new moon, all life in a valley in north-west Cameroon is wiped out. Chickens, baboons, zebus and birds drop dead in the grass – as do two thousand men, women and children. There is no material damage: huts and palm trees are intact. These are the facts. But what happened?

Choke Valley deconstructs every single aspect of this mysterious mass death. In his customary, evocative style, Frank Westerman looks at the same event from three different angles. He guides the reader through the jungle of stories that has emerged from the compost of facts in the space of twenty-five years. What words and images have attached themselves to the facts and how have they developed into new myths? How do stories come into being?

‘With Choke Valley Frank Westerman has gold in his hands. He shows how myths work, how they come to lie on top of facts, how they push the truth aside. He allowed the facts to ripen for twenty-seven years before making a very tasty cocktail out of them in Choke Valley. You read it avidly from beginning to end.’ De Groene Amsterdammer

‘Masterful. Reads like a thriller, but at the same time this is an investigation of stories, of science, of myths. It’s full of marvels. Truly magnificent.’ OBA-live

‘In Choke Valley Frank Westerman movingly shares his astonishment at what happened in the “valley of death”. The result: a thrilling whodunit. He peels away at his subject layer by layer. Westerman enthrals, entertains and makes the reader a good deal wiser.’ Elsevier

‘Frank Westerman is an author who has single-handedly shown that there is no difference at all between the novel and the “true story”. In his latest book Choke Valley he demonstrates that he is at the very top of what in this country is called literary non-fiction. Compelling.’ De Gelderlander

‘With Choke Valley Frank Westerman has achieved his goal: he meticulously conveys the way stories burgeon and mature. And perhaps the wild stories about the Nyos disaster will one day crystallize into a new myth. By writing a thoroughly engaging book about it, Westerman has turned his readers into eye-witnesses.’ De Tijd

‘Each and every one of the stories Westerman digs up is brilliant. Choke Valley is a real success as a book. The search for and gathering together of stories was an excellent plan that has been very well executed. Enthusiasm is paramount.’  NRC Handelsblad * * * * 

Choke Valley is a non-fiction book that does not need the qualification “literary” for it to be considered impressive. The real ambition of the author is to ponder the facts and reconstruct how, over the course of time, they become a story. It is beautifully done. Here the concept of “literary non-fiction” acquires its true meaning.’ Het Parool * * * * 


  • Querido Fosfor, Netherlands
  • Iperborea, Italy
  • Leopard, Sweden
  • Christoph Links, Germany
  • Christian Bourgois, France
  • Siruela, Spain
  • Fundacja Instytut Reportazu, Poland
  • Durieux, Croatia
  • Film/TV rights Simon Allen/The Apartment

Material: Finished copies and pdf of the Dutch edition (320pp), full English translation, other editions