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Book Review - King Leopold's Ghost, by Adam Hochschild

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Book Review of King Leopold's Ghost, by Adam Hochschild

What some have considered to be the first international scandal of

the modern era took place in the Congo from 1890 until 1910. King Leopold

II of Belgium was at the head of this so-called scandal. Although Europe

and the rest of the world seemed to have forgotten the victims of these

crimes, there is a considerable amount of material to use when attempting to

recreate the horror that took place in Leopold's Congo. This is exactly

what Adam Hochschild is attempting to do by writing this book. By using the

written words of mostly Europeans and Americans, which creates a distorted

view of history, he wants to show that the Holocaust type event that took

place in the Congo is something that should never be forgotten in our

history. Hochschild also wants to show the heroism that took place

afterwards in what became the first human rights movement of our time.

Hochschild does an excellent and detailed job of showing how clever

and cunning (like a fox) Leopold was in obtaining and maintaining his hold

in the Congo. Early on Leopold became obsessed with the idea of colonies

and the profit that they could bring to his country. In the beginning he

did not attempt to cover-up this ambition, but soon realized he needed to in

order to have the approval of those countries around him. The metaphor

Hochschild uses to explain Leopold's venture into the Congo is brilliant.

He compares Leopold to a director of a play and explains how he directs his

actors and stagehands, such as Henry Shelton Sanford and Henry Morton

Stanley. By acting as the director and guiding his actors and stagehands,

Leopold finds the angle he needs and that is pretending to engage in a

philanthropy movement in the "dark continent."

In Chapter 9, "Meeting Mr. Kurtz," Hochschild provides a good

description of the novel, Heart of Darkness, and in the process enlightens

the reader about the true background and meaning to Joseph Conrad's novel.

Early in the book, Hochschild mentions the novel and how it has been studied

for Freudian overtones, mystic echoes, and its inward vision. According to

him, the book is more fact than fiction because there are many similarities

between the book and Conrad's very own travels into the Congo. In fact,

Hochschild calls the narrator of Heart of Darkness, Marlow, Conrad's alter

ego. Probably the biggest example of how the book is based on Conrad's own

travels is the fact that the stories' villain, Mr. Kurtz, is clearly

inspired

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