Children of Sodom and Gomorrah: a critical reflection

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This essay is an exploration and critical sounding of the multi-award winning radio feature Children of Sodom and Gomorrah: why young Africans flee to Europe (ARD 2009/ABC 2011) by the Berlin radio author/journalist and director Jens Jarisch. The reviewer, Virginia Madsen, finds something close to a dialectic approach in this unforgettable and searing 'radio film', but also the resonances of what she explores as 'allegorical thinking'. Jarisch, even if unconsciously, appears to have dug down deep into the modern-day ruins of Sodom and Gomorrah, a 'no place' in Accra, Ghana where children eke out a living, forfeiting their childhoods and risking death to recycle our computer waste, before they flee to find a better life in Europe. This program takes on mythical fabular proportions while offering a journalistic 'investigation' based on actual field recordings and the witness of Jens Jarisch in his role as 'reporter' and writer. But what is discovered here goes far beyond everyday journalism and reportage, Madsen argues. Offering her reflections of this 'radio fiction' documentary or 'acoustic film', and drawing on references and dislocations experienced from her listening and research, she encourages us to tease out this tapestry of voices coming as if from an 'underworld', and surfacing from the depths and pandemonium to disturb our western 'paradise'. Madsen understands and imagines this program as a pilgrim's journey between heaven and hell and purgatory as she sounds out key correspondences and dislocations the program evoked for her. Madsen was on a journey of her own when she first encountered this dream of paradise in Africa, an epic tale (Old Testament yet contemporary) of the blessed and the damned. Her essay speaks of the phenomenology of listening in that encounter, the underestimated power of a writing with the microphone and of the history of 'radio feature' culture, especially in Germany. Madsen responds to the depths this program sounds out as it invokes the voices of the dead and of the living, of hope, despair and longing in the face of overwhelming silence and noise. The interweaving of voices in this 'impossible dialogue' and 'play for voices' succeeds in writing itself onto our memories like a fable. And even if we remain fearful that nothing changes, the reviewer finds here something of great value and power that challenges us to listen beyond paradise. (And then maybe to act?) This is not quite Dostoevsky although he is invoked (as are Virgil, Dante and Breugel), but perhaps we come close to something that sounds like 'evidence in a trial': one of the many 'wild ideas' offered by great feature making traditions in radio.
Original languageEnglish
Article number11
Pages (from-to)1-12
Number of pages12
JournalRadioDoc review
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2014

Bibliographical note

This article is a work of scholarly critical analysis. It appears in the refereed section in the first issue of this journal. The journal states: "RadioDoc Review (RDR) is a digital journal where selected audio/radio documentaries, podcasts and features from around the world are critiqued by eminent scholars and/or practitioners of the form. It is published twice a year, overseen by an international editorial board, and emanates from the University of Wollongong, Australia. RadioDoc Review will also publish theoretical essays related to the audio documentary or crafted podcast form, in order to promote collaboration and debate among the international community of podcasters, audio documentary producers, broadcast industry professionals and academics, and develop the theory and practice of the audio documentary/podcast form. This has lately seen a resurgence, as enhanced podcasting technology facilitates global listener access to audio works and creates new consumers and creators of audio works. General reviews are approved by an editorial committee and articles of scholarly critical analysis are double blind peer-reviewed. "

This article is an output of the ARC Discovery Project DP140102514 (Lead CI Dr Virginia Madsen), "Cultural Conversations: A History of ABC Radio National" (2014-2018)


  • Jens Jarisch
  • Sharon Davis
  • Africa
  • refugees
  • environment
  • ABC Radio National
  • radio documentary
  • Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC)
  • radio features and documentary radio programmes (forms and history)
  • Radio features - Germany


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