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King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa by Adam Hochschild

1998; 366 pp. $26. Houghton Mifflin, 222 Berkeley Street, Boston, Massachusetts 02116. 617/ 351-5000, www.hmco.com

When you've been in and out of Africa as much as I've been, just the thought of Belgium in the Congo curdles into disgust and anger. Here, colonialist slavery, torture, and crushed dignity were at their worst. If I hope for anything in the next millennium, it is that somehow the conquerors and the conquered can make their peace; that the manipulators can honestly admit to their unbelievably gruesome acts, and various African peoples can finally forgive today's Europeans for their parents' and grandparents' brutality. Only that reconciliation will give comfort to both continents.

King Leopold's Ghost starts the process. No other book so carefully lays out the history of the Congo?which was personally owned by King Leopold as his private rubber plantation, using slave labor, until the early 1900s. Its great accomplishment is to give a time-depth, a history, to readers who tend to dump Africa into one bland category with no past, no future. Black American missionaries, British abolitionists, hired guns, and Joseph Conrad all appear on the bloody stage. Hochschild's work is holocaustal and definitive, until a Kangan historian who speaks the ten or more languages of the Congo provides the insider perspective.

 

ISBN: 0618001905

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