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King Leopold's Ghost
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Tour d'Afrique A-L Books 2008-12 > Hochschild: King Leopold's Ghost | DRC (Tour D'Afrique) first read: Mar 2010

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message 1: by Muphyn (last edited Feb 28, 2010 02:59AM) (new) - added it

Muphyn | 816 comments Here's a new thread for the March/April book. I thought I'd better set it up for those who just caaaan't wait to get into it and want to go right into discussing it!

Post your thoughts!!


Alex I just started it last night. It's terrific so far; tons of fun to read, and wicked informative. I've read several books about the Congo already:

Stanley: The Impossible Life of Africa's Greatest Explorer;
Facing the Congo: A Modern-Day Journey into the Heart of Darkness;
and of course Heart of Darkness

But already I'm learning stuff I didn't know before, or at least seeing things from a new perspective.

Don't tell me I'm the only one who's already started this, you slackers! I need company!


message 3: by Muphyn (new) - added it

Muphyn | 816 comments My copy still hasn't arrived and I ordered it two weeks ago!! I'll try and catch up as soon as I get it!


message 4: by Melanie (last edited Mar 10, 2010 07:49PM) (new)

Melanie | 171 comments I just started too, Alex! I'm completely blown away on how much info is jammed packed into the Intro, Prologue, and First Chapter. I am reading slower so I can take it all in.


message 5: by Alex (last edited Mar 11, 2010 01:37PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Alex Yeah, he covers a lot of ground huh? But I like his writing style; it's clearly laid out.

Tim Jeal has a less bloodthirsty take on Stanley than Hothschild does. Hothschild does a great job of showing us that Stanley was a pathological liar; in fact, about the only thing he seems to take Stanley's word on is his horrific body count. But Jeal argues convincingly in his respectable but boring Stanley biography that the dude was probably embellishing that too.

Frequently, incidents would appear one way in Stanley's personal journal and letters home, and differently in his dispatches and books. For example, in the infamous Bumbireh incident, when his party was attacked by a large African force, he originally noted "one dead, one wounded" in his journal and in letters; by the time he wrote it up for the public, the toll had risen to 10 (and later 14). Stanley was creating an image for himself, the hardened adventurer, that he thought would appeal to people.

I don't mean to defend Stanley; he was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of porters and some number of other Africans. But I do buy Jeal's argument that he exaggerated that number.


Andrea | 660 comments Yeah, it obviously is worse to actually kill people than to tell a bragging lie about having killed people, but only just.


message 7: by Muphyn (new) - added it

Muphyn | 816 comments My copy arrived last night but I was so tired that I only managed to read the introduction (but was already quite fascinating!).


message 8: by [deleted user] (new)


Andrea | 660 comments Marieke and I read Chief of Station about a year ago and I found it fascinating.


message 10: by [deleted user] (new)

I'm enjoying it so far.


message 11: by LDB (new) - rated it 5 stars

LDB | 66 comments I read this book many years ago while I was researching to write my thesis on the conflict in the DRC. I found this book to be well written, an enjoyable read, and packed with interesting information -- not always an easy combination to find in non-fiction. Not only did this book provide me great insights but it also got me even more interesting in the DRC. I have been highly recommending this book to anyone interested in the DRC (or Africa in general) for the past decade! I don't remember all of the details of the book but I look forward to seeing what everyone here found to be most interesting in it.


message 12: by Alex (new) - rated it 5 stars

Alex I'm a bit over halfway so far - hopefully I'll have a nice chunk of reading time tonight while the wife's at woodworking.

After about the first hundred pages, Hothschild gets through the setup phase and into the occupation phase, and things get even darker real fast. It can be a little tough to handle at times. There are some bad people doing bad things up in here. But still compellingly written and engaging to read. This is a good book.


message 13: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new) - rated it 4 stars

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
Andrea wrote: "Marieke and I read Chief of Station about a year ago and I found it fascinating."

oooooooo confession: i never managed to read it. but at that time larry devlin died and i read some obituaries and fully intended to read his book. but i guess i got distracted! i like that our "units" are now two months long...king leopold's ghost will be a reread for me and if i read a bend in the river, that should be a quickish read...so i want to add devlin's book, especially since shoshana is reading it. is anyone thinking they will read a bend in the river?


message 14: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new) - rated it 4 stars

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
Alex wrote: "I'm a bit over halfway so far - hopefully I'll have a nice chunk of reading time tonight while the wife's at woodworking.

After about the first hundred pages, Hothschild gets through the setup pha..."


ooo...woodworking. jealous. my grandfather was a master carpenter and built and restored furniture, some of which we have in our house. someday i hope to find out if i inherited any skills from him! when i was miserable in my first post-college job, i had dreams of running off to utah to learn how to make violins. my grandmother thought that was a great idea. probably the only person who didn't think i was out of my gourd.

how's that for off topic?

i'll attempt to tie it into africa: i'm obsessed with one-string violins from mali.


message 15: by Alex (new) - rated it 5 stars

Alex Yep, she's off building us an entertainment center while I sit on my butt reading. Life is pretty good. She's amazingly talented at that stuff - and she too sometimes dreams of abandoning her job and learning to make violas. She played for years.

I have a friend who just finished and enjoyed Chief of Station. I'm trying to get him to join us.

I was really thinking I would do Bend in the River this month, but my TBR list is getting a little out of hand right now...I'm not sure if I'm going to be able to fit it in.


message 16: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new) - rated it 4 stars

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
my book stack is completely out of control.

i'm ashamed to admit it, but life got in between me and my violin, which is actually my great-grandfather's violin...but my niece is inspiring me to make time for it again and i'm about to take my (great-grandfather's) violin and my great-uncle's 3/4-size violin to the shop to get fixed up. the 3/4 is for my niece. i am never parting with mine. maybe in retirement i'll make some fiddles, perhaps some with just one string...among other hair-brained schemes i dream up.


Andrea | 660 comments I'll try to reread Bend in the River. My son is a classical guitarist with a bent toward forestry and my husband owns a small sawmill in Kenya. One of my husbands "big ideas" has been for our son to find some fantastic, previously unknown guitar-making wood in the Kenyan forest and make our fortune. Sometimes I think he should write novels, but who would develop such an improbable plot?


message 18: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new) - rated it 4 stars

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
i think you've just come up with the perfect plan for your son! novels and all.

who knows...maybe he'll find some kind of amazing previously unknown fiddle-making wood?! alex's wife and i will apprentice with him and he can make *our* fortunes, too! does kenyan music ever feature violin-type instruments? the only kenyan music i have heard is electric and somewhat pop-rockish. i don't recall much of a violin sound.


Andrea | 660 comments There is a traditional harp that is being used today by some gospel musicians. But Kenyans are definitely guitar fans. There is a distinct East AFrican pop guitar sound that goes way back to the fifties that is still very popular. My son hasn't really tried to master it, but he says the rhythms are more complex than they appear. Actually an American classical guitarist made a cd a few years ago, "The Magic Box" (can't think of artist's name) that featured some Afro-pop adaptations. My other son plays violin, so maybe he can adapt something!


message 20: by Alex (new) - rated it 5 stars

Alex Wow Andrea, that's interesting. Do you spend much time over there? Did the recent political upheaval affect you?

Love your taste in books, by the way.

Glad we've got our retirement plans all figured out. :)


Andrea | 660 comments I don't live there, but my husband is there for about a month every year. I was last there in 2006 and am hoping for Christmas 2010. The political upheaval affected everybody I guess, but my immediate family was safe. They did have police helicopters overhead, police and young blood roadblocks, crowd blockaded county council offices and county administrator from a different ethnic group was lifted out by govt. chopper. But they are in a quiet rural area, so that's about the extent of it. Hoping it was a one off, but next presidential elections in 2012 are not expected to be a good time.


message 22: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new) - rated it 4 stars

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
Hmmm...can one use a bow on the harp-like instrument?
It is good to plan for retirement!


message 23: by LDB (new) - rated it 5 stars

LDB | 66 comments Chief of Station, Congo: Fighting the Cold War in a Hot Zone sounds really interesting - one of the few DRC books I don't have in my collection and haven't read. May have to look into getting that one. I have read A Bend in the River some time ago and am not sure I want to re-read it. Then again, it brought an interesting perspective and I did get the sense that I was missing things along the way that I might pick up in a second reading.

For retirement, or anytime really, I don't have the skills for woodcutting but would love to run away to Africa somewhere, Haiti, or southern France and write novels. Someday...


message 24: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new) - rated it 4 stars

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
And we will read your novels here, LDB, if they are about Africa! :D

I think I will rearrange my readings a little bit and push a bend in the river back to the end of April. It seems like there is more discussion bubbling around chief of station (in addition to the main reading).


message 25: by Alex (last edited Mar 16, 2010 06:31AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Alex I woke up crazy early this morning - not great, as I was also up crazy late last night - so I grabbed some coffee and finished King Leopold's Ghost. It was awesome.

I'm gonna be so cranky this afternoon.


Andrea | 660 comments I'm only about a quarter of the way through right now, and as I write, I am making myself late for the one physical book group I belong to. But I wanted to note the book's observation that Stanley might be considered a precursor to later travel writing. It would be really interesting to think about the way his apparent "re-writes" of reality resemble or don't resemble the amount of leeway contemporary travel writers take with material. One author I read of a Capetown to Cairo bike trip actually completed the trip in two separate segments a year apart, but wrote the book to make it sound like it was all one trip. He claimed he did it for "narrative continuity." Maybe that was Stanley's reason?(haha).


message 27: by Alex (new) - rated it 5 stars

Alex Well, but isn't the grand daddy of unreliable travelogue writers Marco Polo?


message 28: by [deleted user] (new)

I'm at the part of Chief of Station, Congo: Fighting the Cold War in a Hot Zone where Devlin has been told to assassinate a political figure.


message 29: by Judd (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judd Evans (judd1) | 11 comments Shoshanapnw wrote: "I'm at the part of Chief of Station, Congo: Fighting the Cold War in a Hot Zone where Devlin has been told to assassinate a political figure."

Whoa, that sounds intense, I may be getting into Chief of Station soon, I'm currently halfway through King Leopold's Ghost and I think it's quite good.


message 30: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new) - rated it 4 stars

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
i feel very disorganized with my reading pile and due dates. i haven't started rereading King Leopold's Ghost but i have it at home, ready. I just fetched Chief of Station today to take home with me...but i think i'll reread King Leopold's Ghost first...however...those books that are due next week are beckoning me...ack!


message 31: by LDB (new) - rated it 5 stars

LDB | 66 comments If I remember correctly, there is also a section in King Leopold's Ghost about the command to assassinate this particular political figure. I did my research on the conflict in the DRC and this episode (which I don't want to get too far into for those who haven't read those parts yet) is incredibly interesting. Not only are all of the stories around the assassination fascinating, but I almost feel it is just as fascinating to think of what the DRC might have turned out like had this person lived on.


message 32: by Muphyn (last edited Mar 16, 2010 03:53PM) (new) - added it

Muphyn | 816 comments Oh my goodnesss, you guys are all so organised!! I still haven't managed to get past the introduction but I REALLY want to!! I think I need to get my act together or you'll all be finished again, and I'll only be half way through and have another unfinished book sitting in my enormous pile... haha.


message 33: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new) - rated it 4 stars

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
Oh, muphyn...I have not started! Granted I read it before, but I need to reread to participate in the discussion. Especially since Alex pointed out all of stanley's elaborations. And since I want to read devlin's book finally, I definitely want to reread king leopold's ghost after LDB's comment about the assassination. If LDB does indeed recall correctly, it will be interesting to compare how the event is portrayed in the two books.


message 34: by Alex (last edited Mar 17, 2010 06:58AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Alex It's the same one, LDB, yeah.

In King Leopold's Ghost, it's on pp. 300-304 - mostly 302. KLG deals only glancingly with events after 1908, so it's just a brief summary.

I agree with your last sentence, LDB: I would have liked to find out. Hochschild agrees too. Infuriating.

Belated edit: I don't consider the identity of the assassinated person much of a spoiler since it, y'know, actually happened, and is mentioned clearly in reviews of "Chief of Station." But should you want to keep it a mystery...do not read the next few posts. SPOILER ALERT.


message 35: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new) - rated it 4 stars

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
Is it also mentioned in the intro? On page 3 of my copy hochschild refers to his one visit to the Congo, which took place in 1961 and at which time he "heard a young CIA man, who had had too much to drink, describe with satisfaction exactly how and where the newly independent country's first prime minister, Patrice Lumumba, had been killed a few months earlier." is this Devlin, or an underling?


message 36: by [deleted user] (new)

Probably an underling--Devlin and his associate sent in to take over the plan (because Devlin dragged his heels) were both against it. Wile I haven't gotten to the assassination yet, even in retrospect Devlin finds the idea repulsive. I don't see him as bragging about it later.


Andrea | 660 comments At least, Devlin claims he was against it. My husband and his Kenyan friends have always stated it as a fact, not a rumor, that Lumumba was assassinated with the cooperation of the CIA. I'm not citing this as "truth," just clearly the CIA's explanation didn't carry much weight for them. I don't have any expert way of knowing who's telling the truth, but I don't really trust Devlin's explanation of his own innocence.


message 38: by Alex (last edited Mar 17, 2010 06:57AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Alex Oh good, we're not tiptoeing around Lumumba's identity anymore. I put a spoiler alert into my post just above this discussion, so if anyone doesn't want to know they have at least some warning to skip these posts. This conversation's too interesting to skip, though.

Marieke, that's the assassination but probably not the drunk.

Hochschild also considers it fact that the CIA is complicit in Lumumba's assassination. Here's an unusually legible and well-referenced Wikipedia bit on Lumumba's death. Of particular interest is the section on the US's involvement; it says the book Congo Cables: The Cold War in Africa--From Eisenhower to Kennedy proves that "the record shows that many communications by Devlin at the time urged elimination of Lumumba."

(It also says a bunch of other stuff, so read it if you're interested.)


message 39: by [deleted user] (last edited Mar 17, 2010 08:16AM) (new)

I don't know who's credible in this. Devlin says that he was told to do it, and didn't because he felt it was morally wrong and would not ultimately secure the U.S.'s objectives. Even if he's accurate about his role, we know that the CIA already had a second agent involved, so there may have been more.

As to the drunk, Devlin would have been 39 at the time, a WWII veteran and not a young-looking guy in 1961.

Edited to add: I have colleagues who assert with great conviction that HIV is germ warfare developed by the CIA to depopulate Africa. I can't say whether or not that's true, but I haven't seen any evidence to support this assertion.


message 40: by Alex (new) - rated it 5 stars

Alex I've heard that too, but not from sane people. Why would we bother? Just going in and shooting them has been working just fine.


message 41: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new) - rated it 4 stars

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
I think the HIV as germ warfare theory has its roots in deep distrust that developed from botched euro-american humanitarian efforts, among other things. those beliefs persist and really inhibit efforts to curb and ameliorate HIV/AIDS where it has become a real problem (which is NOT everywhere in Africa!!!). and this trust problem is not limited to HIV/AIDS...there was a big problem a few years back when community leaders refused to allow children in some Nigerian areas to receive polio vaccines. a polio outbreak occurred following the return of pilgrims from the Hajj, but in the wake of that, children could not receive vaccinations to protect them against future outbreaks, because too many people believed that the polio vaccine was not a vaccine at all, but rather something sinister from american laboratories. it's not too difficult to imagine how these perceptions develop when you consider the results of a well-intended humanitarian dispersal of powdered milk to africans in drought-stricken areas...anyone (like me) with lactose intolerance (which most africans have but few europeans do) will know what i'm talking about. added to that, americans have a similar problem, which africans are aware of: the belief that the CIA planted drugs in inner-cities to cause poor black americans to become addicted and ultimately decimate their communities from within. oh--and back to HIV, there have been plenty of instances of very irresponsible testing in recent years of HIV remedies and vaccines conducted in Africa...Africans are much more aware of this than Americans are.


message 42: by Alex (last edited Mar 17, 2010 09:43AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Alex That is a really good post, Marieke. Thank you.

I was aware of the lactose intolerance issue - one of the big things people bring up as evidence of ongoing human evolution - but I wasn't at all aware of the powdered milk fiasco. Very interesting.


message 43: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new) - rated it 4 stars

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
well, i wish i could remember more about the powdered milk fiasco because it happened in a particular place several decades ago; powdered milk is still a big part of food aid to africa...so there must be plenty of people who can tolerate it. anyway, i was just using it as an example of how seeds of distrust might get started.


message 44: by Alex (new) - rated it 5 stars

Alex Right. It was a good example.

We're veering way off topic here, and this might be worth its own thread, but do you subscribe to the Dead Aid theory (my own term) that we should leave it alone and let Africa save itself?

(Horribly incomplete summary there, and I haven't even read the book. Others, like Paul Theroux, subscribe to the same general philosophy that aid is, at best, not helping. I'm not personally educated enough to have an opinion; I think both sides appear to have good points, and it sounds like a damn thorny problem.)


message 45: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new) - rated it 4 stars

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
oh--as for lactose and evolution...i think it is tied to dairy farming, which is why europeans supposedly typically suffer from lactase persistence. lactase persistence is the (abnormal?) continual production of lactase, the enzyme needed to break down the lactose sugar. heh heh heh---i love telling people i don't suffer from anything, but adults who continue to drink milk after childhood suffer from the condition called lactase persistence. heh heh heh.


message 46: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new) - rated it 4 stars

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
Alex wrote: "Right. It was a good example.

We're veering way off topic here, and this might be worth its own thread, but do you subscribe to the Dead Aid theory (my own term) that we should lea..."


i'm not educated enough, either, and i would also say "i think both sides appear to have good points, and it sounds like a damn thorny problem." i think one of the first and most compelling arguments i heard from an African speaking out *against* foreign aid (and caused me to start questioning the status quo) was along the lines of, "Africa has plenty of cotton. stop sending us your old shirts."

i have read a lot of really disheartening things about foreign aid and i think something is definitely awry and something needs to change. but i'm not an economist, an African, or someone who works in development...you're right, this probably deserves its own thread and i think there are a lot of new books out there looking at this problem. hopefully some members who are knowledgeable will offer their insights! but let's start a new thread for that.


message 47: by Alex (new) - rated it 5 stars

Alex Good idea. Hopefully LDB will drop by. This seems like something she might have some experience with.


message 48: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new) - rated it 4 stars

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
I started a new topic under "anything on Africa." yes, I hope LDB will share some thoughts! And I hope some other members will come forward, too. This is a friendly group, even when the topics are charged! At least, that is my perception of the group, and as we know, perception is reality. ;)


message 49: by [deleted user] (new)

My understanding of the theory of lactose tolerance evolution has to do with low exposure to sunlight in the north, giving an advantage to those genetic lines that retain the capacity to digest milk (which has various nutrients) in adulthood.


message 50: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new) - rated it 4 stars

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
that makes sense...however, there are herding cultures in sunny africa which have also developed lactase persistence (heh heh). and i would add that with advantages come disadvantages...the incidence of osteoporosis is much lower among cultures that do not typically drink milk, such as the japanese, for example. the animal proteins in the milk actually leech more calcium from the bones than the milk provides.


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