From the United States
Full of Real World Insight — a delight to read
Reviewed in the United States on February 17, 2021
This book is like no other — a spectacular look at the most important conversations and debates in world history. Thalif Deen has spent his entire career, 40-plus years, inside the storied halls of the United Nations. Having a seat at some of the most important debates and decisions that have impacted global events, international relations — treaties, wars, peacemaking and more. How do the most important, earth-shattering decisions get made, ones that impact millions of people on the planet? This book is compelling, interesting, and gives the insider’s insight into what is really happening behind the scenes. There is nothing else like it out there. It is also a humorous read at times, which makes it a joy to read.
A Page Turner
Reviewed in the United States on March 3, 2021
Bazookas Flew Over the House of Peace
‘No Comment’ is a memoir embedded in a collection of satire that chronicles the functioning of the United Nations and the political developments of the last half a century that the author has personally observed and reported on. Humor, irony, and exaggeration is all mixed into one, in this impressive publication that narrates the political and socio-economic developments as reflected in the United Nations debates and in the interactions of diplomats, and members of the press covering the United Nations.
Complex diplomatic crises involving world affairs are presented with satire weaved in so that the reader is constantly humored. Set in the world of international politics, delightful cameos are made by world leaders from Nikita Khrushchev to Barak Obama, and by the notorious once from Arafat, Castro, Qadhafi, Che Guerra, to Saddam Hussain and many more, some of whom outwitted each other.
Among the many incidents narrated is the occasion when Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev banged his hole-riddled shoe on his desk, as captured on a camera by a journalist when seeking the floor to raise a point of order in the General Assembly and the occasion when fearing assassination, the PLO leader Yasser Arafat slept in the U.N. secretary-general’s office. The author recalls that Mobutu Sese Seko, president of then Zaire, singled out as one of “the world’s most corrupt leaders responded at a press conference when he was asked whether he was the second wealthiest political leader. Apparently, seemingly outraged Mobutu shouted back: “It’s a lie. It’s a lie,” and then added with a straight face, “I am only the fourth richest”. Also, related is how the U.N. headquarters came under attack by the anti-Castro forces in the U.S., backed by the CIA, who fired bazookas that thankfully fell on the east river missing the U.N. building, an act carried out to prevent the second in command to Castro the Argentinian Guerrilla leader Che Guevara addressing the General Assembly.
By way of an explanation of the title of his book, he relates the dilemma he faced along with the rest of his fellow journalists at the U.N. who rarely ever, were able to get any on-the-record comments or reactions from Diplomats, and senior U.N. officials because most of them followed the advice given to Brits during wartime censorship in the U.K.: “Be like Dad, Keep Mum.” He tells us of a response from a tight-lipped Asian diplomat who once told him: ‘No comment’ – and as an after-thought, added: And Don’t Quote Me on That”.
The book presents a vivid portrait of world leaders and chronicles complex world events with a unique blend of satirical storytelling which teaches and entertains us.
President Emeritus, International Institute of Space Law, Former Deputy Director-General, United Nations, and Director, United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs
Satire rooted in no-nonsense realism
Reviewed in the United States on March 11, 2021
Come October, the United Nations will celebrate its 76th birthday. And for over 40 of those, perhaps
most tumultuous and impactful years, a Sri Lankan has been telling a global audience about its
successes and failures.
And now, Thalif Deen has put the good, the bad and the giggly into a book, No Comment and Don’t Quote Me on That.
A Fullbright scholar with a master’s degree (MSc) in journalism from Columbia University, New York, he’s among the heavy-hitters, who has seen and heard it all…and can say with ease in his sprightly step — been there, covered that. He capped his laudable career as UN Bureau Chief and Regional Director of Inter Press Service (IPS).
A former Deputy News Editor at the Ceylon Daily News, he has served as Senior Editorial Writer on the Hong Kong Standard; Information Officer at the UN Secretariat; Director, Foreign Military Markets at Defence Marketing Services; Senior Defence Analyst at Forecast International and military editor Middle East/Africa at Jane’s Information Group. Used to donning multiple hats, he was also a longstanding columnist for the Sri Lanka Sunday Times and U.N. correspondent Asiaweek, Hong Kong and Jane’s Defence Weekly, London.
The early years of Deen’s career in Sri Lanka in the late sixties showed clearly the peaks he was destined to scale, first as a star reporter on the Ceylon Observer and as Deputy News Editor of the Ceylon Daily News, Sri Lanka’s leading daily.
No Comment is peppered with anecdotes of lighter moments, which brought immense relief to days laden with stressful responsibilities. One of those anecdotes is about UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali (1992-1996), who was fluent in English, Arabic and French.
Asked at a news briefing about his fluency in three of the UN’s six official languages, Boutros-Ghali jokingly told reporters that his primary language was Arabic “because when I fight with my wife, I fight in Arabic.”
Another was when a Southeast Asian ambassador hosted a lunch for journalists at his residence. The ambassador told his guests there was an underlying reason for the lunch. “We will soon begin our two-year term as a non-permanent member of the Security Council – and we need your cooperation (read: news coverage)”. And then added: “Hey guys, remember, as the Americans say, there is no such thing as a free lunch”. A wise-cracking British journalist was quick with a response: “Ambassador, there is also no such thing as a free press.”
And hardline conservative John Bolton, as US Ambassador to the U.N. (2005-2006), notoriously remarked: “There’s no such thing as the United Nations. If the U.N. secretariat building in New York lost 10 stories, it wouldn’t make a bit of difference.” The punchline, however, came from a New York Times columnist, who said Bolton would do better as an urban planner than a US diplomat.
Given his rapport with Sri Lanka’s UN ambassadors and support staff, Deen had built a strong working relationship with Ambassador Daya Perera. When he was in the envoy’s office one day, Perera had dropped a file marked “Confidential” before him.
It looked like a journalist’s dream because the file was expected to contain, not only Sri Lanka’s official stance on some of the politically sensitive issues at the UN, but also letters detailing the running battle he had with the then Foreign Secretary in Colombo, who was one of Perera’s bosses.
Just when Deen thought he may have a series of journalistic scoops, Perera remarked in characteristic Sri Lankan idiom: “You bugger, you can read, but you cannot write”.
Deen had told him: “Daya, you are treating me like a eunuch in a Middle Eastern harem. I can see all what’s going on but I cannot do anything myself.” Perera appreciated that wisecrack and Deen says that in tempting him with the “Confidential” file, Perera was not only making a gesture symbolizing their friendship but also refusing to betray the trust his government had placed on him as a senior high-ranking diplomat at the UN.
A member of an elite club as one of the most senior UN correspondents, Thalif Deen has made a mark with his incisive reports, which convey the nuances and multilayered proceedings and declarations of the United Nations.
He holds his own as one of only three Sri Lankan journalists who had a presence on the global stage. His assignments encompass UN proceedings in New York and global UN conferences from 50 countries. Throughout all his heady achievements, Deen has remained the simple, helpful person who has touched many lives. I am privileged to be among nascent Sri Lankan journalists at the Ceylon Observer, who benefited from his advice and assistance.
When I received a Dag Hammarskjold Fellowship, awarded by the UN Correspondents Association, to cover the 30th General Assembly sessions in 1975, Deen, then an Information Officer at the UN, was a tower of strength — providing insights to the intricacies of the subject matter, introductions to decision-makers and those in the know, and vitally shepherding me through the daunting vastness of the Big Apple.
Deen’s satire is the kind that is rooted in no-nonsense realism. Such is his talent that, in this respect, he has much in common with Solomon Bandaranaike and Chou en-lai. And you can quote me on that.
By Nimal Fernando
Nimal Fernando, a former copy editor at the Ceylon Daily News and Ceylon Observer, has served as a copy editor at the Khaleej Times, Dubai; Editor of What’s On magazine, Dubai, and Senior Editor at the Gulf News, Dubai
Anecdotes about a 40-year career in the United Nations in New York
Reviewed in the United States on March 16, 2021
Thalif Deen has written a very interesting book full of anecdotes about a 40-year career in the United Nations. He presents a viewpoint that somewhat differs from the general impression of the United Nations. It is a useful read to learn about how the UN actually works, and how policy decisions are made, based predominantly on the wishes of the big Five. The book is filled with amusing anecdotes and insightful comments regarding some of the more well known UN figures. The book would resonate with readers from underdeveloped countries and would be a must-read for all Sri Lankans who would like to know more about the workings of the United Nations, and the Sri Lankan diplomats who have worked in New York.
Entertaining and Factual – a feat!
Reviewed in the United States on February 27, 2021
An informative and enjoyable read. Thalif Deen recounts stories and truths that enlighten and entertain at the same time. After my two decades of serving at the UN, I realise how much I missed, which Mr Deen captured with wit and eloquence. An easy read to finish and a memorable one. More!!!
Wits inside the United Nations
Reviewed in the United States on March 4, 2021
Hidden behind the breathtaking anecdotes and many inspiring stories are various informative UN processes and nuances that any scholar on UN affairs or Diplomacy would find interesting and useful. Hard to believe episodes that have transpired inside the United Nations – indubitably the most revered place in the world.
Truly enjoyable reading.
An insider’s look at the UN!
Reviewed in the United States on February 28, 2021
I have known Thalif Deen for over 50 years, and for most of that time, I was aware that a very entertaining and erudite book was on its way! Deen has produced a very interesting book that gives us an insider’s look at the lighter side of the workings of the UN and of the people that make it work.
All Deen’s stories are great to listen to and this book is no exception.
Reviewed in the United States on February 24, 2021
This book is full of great stories about Thalif Deen’s experiences while working as a reporter at the UN.
This book is a fun read, teasing the reader’s curiosity wanting to know more
Reviewed in the United States on March 10, 2021
This book is refreshing, a fun read, filled as it is with splendid anecdotes about life in the corridors of the UN. Thalif Deen was privileged to have been there at a specifically important era. The book teases the reader’s curiosity wanting to know more. One day I got a glimpse of this when Deen showed me around the offices of the UN Correspondents Association. The atmosphere was simply electric, with correspondents sprinting down the hallways to the next event – quite a contrast with groups of diplomats huddling in a corner at the UN Delegates Dining Room.
Surely Thalif Deen has more upon his sleeve for a sequel, perhaps this time digging deeper in off the record anecdotes. With time passing, it might now become possible to do just that.
Author of A Destiny In The Making: From Wall Street to Unicef in Africa
Factual with a dose of humor
Reviewed in the United States on February 19, 2021
Such a well written, historically interesting and humorous to boot, book. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. It gives the outsider a peek at the workings of the juggernaut that is the United Nations. Mr Deen has won many international awards for his journalism.
Dive into this easy-to-read book and you will not regret it.
Ruwini de Silva
Political gossip that makes diplomacy tick
Reviewed in the United States on February 23, 2021
Lively and witty commentary of the happenings at UN meetings. Provides background on the scenes behind the political decision making of member states.
Venetia de silva
Samir Sanbar is a former UN assistant secretary-general, one-time head of the UN’s Department of Public Information and author of “Inside the United Nations: In A Leaderless World”
Journalism is a talent, not a job. Reporters covering events, particularly those associated with international diplomatic stars could accomplish their best when they keep an open mind, a head on their shoulder and feet planted on the ground.
The main international framework, the United Nations, has hosted an abundance of resident correspondents over 75 years of existence, with varying levels of performance.
Thalif Deen made a remarkable difference during 40 years of reporting from the United Nations.
Forty years could be most exhausting, having observed similar diplomatic manoeuvres and political encounters over time. It took genuine talent and professional experience to present even some casual events with a refreshed angle. His office at Inter-Press Service (IPS), together with his Agency colleagues, offered a discreet perceptive contact base.
“No Comment!..and Don’t Quote me on That”, Thalif’s recent book is typically refreshing, informative and genuine — sprinkled with a heavy dose of his subtle sense of humour. And his long list of anecdotal news briefs—under the caption “On and Off the Beaten Track”- gets to the point.
The United Nations is understood by its individual participants and its daily management. insider anecdotes reviving the vibrant attitude of its leaders.
As Thalif recounts, Francophone Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, for example, advised an aspiring candidate running for the post of UN chief that if he wants to get the approval of France “you must not only speak French but also speak English with a French accent”.
Secretary-General Kofi Annan of Ghana noted that billions of dollars in public funds “continue to be stashed away” by African leaders while roads are crumbling, health systems are failing”, school children have neither books nor desks nor teachers and phones don’t work.”.
Meanwhile, visits by world leaders to the UN General Assembly sessions are covered with. a corridor nuance.
Like most new New Yorkers, Thalif had to explore his lonesome struggling way through the Big Apple. as he came from Sri Lanka, a vibrant member of the United Nations. It offered the first woman Prime Minister. Mrs Sirimavo Bandaranaike and an outstanding woman Under-Secretary-General Radikha Coomaraswamy, a President of the General Assembly, Shirley Amerasinghe and Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs Jayantha Dhanapala who was a potential candidate for Secretary-General.
Several Sri Lankans, at all levels, played a positive role in their assignments with gracious thoughtful style. In his book, like in his professional work, Thalif displayed the attitude of an authentic New Yorker who is loyal to the spirit of his country of origin.
Wits inside the United Nations
Hidden behind the breathtaking anecdotes and many inspiring stories are various informative UN processes and nuances that any scholar on UN affairs or Diplomacy would find interesting and useful.
Hard to believe episodes that have transpired inside the United Nations – indubitably the most revered place in the world.
Truly enjoyable reading.
Absorbing & Factual
Reviewed in the United States on March 29, 2021
A very insightful book about the United Nations from Thalif Deen who worked there for more than 40 years. It was a very important era at the UN & Deen met them all. He also gave important parties in honour of famous people who were recipients of IPS prizes. I enjoyed the anecdotes, historically very interesting with political gossip.
Very entertaining & absorbing.
Irane De Costa
From Across The World
A collection of stories from an ‘Inside Man’
Reviewed in Australia on February 5, 2021
This collection of stories and anecdotes from someone who has been at the very heart of the international political scene in New York is both amusing and eye-opening. Given his 40-years of reporting from this sometimes controversial body, Deen’s stories, captured from behind the glass curtain which is the UN building on 1st and 42nd street, reveal an organization made up of ordinary men and women trying to achieve extraordinary things. I have no doubt that this is just the first instalment from a raconteur who delights in telling tales from the ‘sublime to the hilarious’.
Insider insight into the UN
Reviewed in Australia on March 16, 2021
The book provides a great insight into the operation of the UN. The politics, the inefficiencies and behaviour of those involved are exposed.
UN Journo; Other Snippets
Sunday Island, Sri Lanka 28 February 2021, from the weekly column ‘Cassandra Cry’
Good to write about another Sri Lankan who has made a name in the Big Apple of all places and continues to identify himself with his birth country. Interest was evoked by the article in the Sunday Island of February 14 written by Roderic Grigson and titled A Book Focusing on the Hilarious Side of the UN.
The said book is by the long working journalist – former UN Bureau Chief and Regional Director of Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency – Thalif Deen. The book is on Amazon.com and carries the long and explicit title “No Comment and Don’t Quote Me on That” with the longer subtitle: “From the sublime to the ridiculous: over 40 years of reporting from the United Nations.”
The book is still to be procured and read but the author is known to many I spoke to.
A longtime staff member of Lake House remembers Thalif Deen well, although memories are of the 1960s when Thalif was a cub reporter just out of school, probably.
A friend in New York emailed he was very much with the Sri Lankans over there and was a film buff who loved to talk films; about the home country too. He contributes weekly to The Sunday Times.
The review of the book by Grigson reinforced Cass’ lament that the talent of the gentleman politician or diplomat has fast faded away. Grigson retells two anecdotes of Thalif with Dr Gamani Corea and Ambassador H M G S Palihakkara.
Apart from an excellent journalist like Thalif, Sri Lanka/Ceylon boasted diplomats on the world stage highly recognized and valued by the UN. We know of Lakshman Kadirgamar, Jayantha Dhanapala, Radhika Coomaraswamy and others.
Locally, we had MPs who could argue as arguing had to be done – N M Perera, Pieter Keuneman, Anura B. We now have only one among a rabble of government MPs – Dinesh G.
Deen was educated at Zahira College Colombo, University of Peradeniya and then his MSc at Columbia University. He was a Fulbright scholar too and worked in countries other than SL and the USA. To quote Grigson: “No Comment … is part memoir, part discourse on international reporting reality from a third world perspective.” Go back to last Sunday’s Island and read the article if you missed it.
We can swell out with legitimate pride in these dark times of sham and shame. The fact that enamoured Cass most after learning about Thalif Deen was that we had persons who comfortably straddled the world stage. In sharp stark contrast what we suffer in SL are the likes of pontificating monks who love a mike in hand, Gaman and Weera.
Ida Karlsson writes from Sweden
I received the book and read it tonight. So many stories from the corridors of the “glass house” by East River. The book offers an insider’s view of international reporting, and always with a twist. I was laughing at the Maldivian diplomat’s answer when Deen asked about the strength of his country’s standing army. ”Standing army? We don’t even have a sitting army.” So many entertaining anecdotes. And even the horrible ones are full of humour. I really enjoyed the book.
Maria Victoria (Mavic) Cabrera Balleza
Founder & Chief Executive Officer, Global Network of Women Peacebuilders
Equality for Women. Peace for All.
It’s so informative, insightful, and oh, sooooo funny! Congrats! I’ll share it with my staff but better yet, I will ask them to buy their own copies! I’m waiting for the opportunity to meet you in person and ask you to sign it.
Copies of the book are available both in paperback and electronic formats on Amazon.