“A man doesn’t go among thorns unless a snake’s after him—or he’s after a snake.” He added, “I’m after a snake and please God I’ll scotch it.” Adam Hochschild, King Leopold’s Ghost.
Sadly, Adam Hochschild’s book about the tyrant Belgium king, King Leopold II, was the only book I was assigned my first semester back at college. I was hoping to have a massive reading list for English, and maybe even art. However, the only book I was requested to read came from my Modern History class.
Normal I have a very rough time committing to non-fiction books. Even if I am interested in the person or subject, for some reason the book will eventually bore me to tears. I don’t know if it was my interest in history, or that it was forced reading, but I really enjoyed reading “King Leopold’s Ghost.” Written in that style that crosses factual history with the magic of fictional-style word play, Hochschild recounts how the Congo came to be under King Leopold’s thumb.
During the scramble for Africa, tiny Belgium’s king had big ambitions. Under the guise of saving African’s from the evil hands of slave traders, Leopold used famous explorer Henry Morton Stanley to conquer the Congo. If you are a Game of Thrones fan, you will understand what I mean when I say King Leopold II is the real life version of Tywin Lannister and Littlefinger all rolled into one.
While making himself stinking rich off the backs of African slaves, (of whom his militia men tortured, mutilated, and imprisoned), Leopold courted young girls, and arranging several architectural projects. It wasn’t until a young man by the name of E.D. Morel realized, by way of discrepancies in Belgium-Congo shipping numbers, that Leopold had been skimming the money meant to be wages for the Africans to line his own pockets.
Through the efforts of E.D. Morel, his best mate, Roger Casement, and many other European followers of their movement, the voices and testimony of the African people can be heard. The sheer horror of their experiences with European invasion is heart wrenching. A big disclaimer I have is you must have a strong stomach while reading this book. The atrocities the people of the Congo endured were unimaginable, and wildly disturbing.
One of the reasons I enjoyed the book is we hear from the rarely heard voice of the victims. Interviews, court cases, and diary entries reveal how brave the Africans were in the face of a monster: Colonization.
The big question is, as Hochschild states many times throughout the book, why is this history not told? With the number of death totaling more than the Holocaust, why is this slaughter news to us?
Maybe because in real life the villain always wins. Read and find out!
You must learn history, or humanity is doomed to repeat it.