Book Review of King Leopold’s Ghost, by Adam HochschildWhat some have considered to be the first international scandal ofthe modern era took place in the Congo from 1890 until 1910. King LeopoldII of Belgium was at the head of this so-called scandal. Although Europeand the rest of the world seemed to have forgotten the victims of thesecrimes, there is a considerable amount of material to use when attempting torecreate the horror that took place in Leopold’s Congo. This is exactlywhat Adam Hochschild is attempting to do by writing this book.
By using thewritten words of mostly Europeans and Americans, which creates a distortedview of history, he wants to show that the Holocaust type event that tookplace in the Congo is something that should never be forgotten in ourhistory. Hochschild also wants to show the heroism that took placeafterwards in what became the first human rights movement of our time. Hochschild does an excellent and detailed job of showing how cleverand cunning (like a fox) Leopold was in obtaining and maintaining his holdin the Congo. Early on Leopold became obsessed with the idea of coloniesand the profit that they could bring to his country. In the beginning hedid not attempt to cover-up this ambition, but soon realized he needed to inorder to have the approval of those countries around him. The metaphorHochschild 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 hisactors and stagehands, such as Henry Shelton Sanford and Henry MortonStanley.
By acting as the director and guiding his actors and stagehands,Leopold finds the angle he needs and that is pretending to engage in aphilanthropy movement in the “dark continent.”In Chapter 9, “Meeting Mr. Kurtz,” Hochschild provides a gooddescription of the novel, Heart of Darkness, and in the process enlightensthe 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 studiedfor Freudian overtones, mystic echoes, and its inward vision.
According tohim, the book is more fact than fiction because there are many similaritiesbetween the book and Conrad’s very own travels into the Congo. In fact,Hochschild calls the narrator of Heart of Darkness, Marlow, Conrad’s alterego. Probably the biggest example of how the book is based on Conrad’s owntravels is the fact that the stories’ villain, Mr.
Kurtz, is clearlyinspired by a number of real people. These include George Antoine Klein,Major Edmund Barttelot, and Captain Leon Rom, who probably is the real-lifebasis for Kurtz’s most important signal, a collection of African headsaround his house. Heart of Darkness is given a completely new spin becauseof Hochschild’s interpretation. Hochschild has a tendency to be too descriptive.
There are someparts in the book that could be taken out in order to make it more conciseand related to the point he is trying to convey. Also at times he seems touse quotation that are unnecessary and would be better left out. At onepoint he has a quotation that takes up two pages by itself. Anothernegative about the book is that he seems to be a little harsh on Leopold.To my knowledge, Leopold was doing things that a lot of other countries weredoing.
All colony-seeking countries tried to establish dominance over theirempire. There is no doubt the author is very knowing is his subject, butthe book could be even stronger if some parts were left out entirely.In King Leopold’s Ghost, Adam Hochschild has made readers aware ofthe horrendous events that took place in the Congo doing the late nineteenthcentury and early twentieth century. King Leopold II, the king of theBelgians, was the mastermind and director of what the author calls a stageplay.
By using his cleverness, Leopold was able to secure the Congo, butthis also led to the first human rights movement of the modern era. Thismovement would continue on after Leopold’s death, meaning that KingLeopold’s Ghost was still putting up a fight for his beloved colony. Thisbook is very entertaining and I recommend it for future classes.