Mainly for scholars, although anyone with an interest in African affairs will benefit from this analysis.



An eminent French historian journeys into the heart of Africa and returns with an unhappy report.

The Great Lakes region of east-central Africa was for years “a paradise for colonizers, missionaries, and so-called development experts,” writes Chrétien (Centre Nationale de Recherches/Univ. of Paris). Little known to the outside world, it became a byword for an earthly hell when, in the late 20th century, Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi all but disintegrated in ethnic genocide, in part the direct result of colonialism and of a racist anthropology that favored some tribes over others: “The preponderance of the Caucasian type has remained deeply marked among the Batutsi,” one ethnological report from as late as 1948 reads. “Their elevated height . . . the fineness of their traits, and their intelligent expression all contribute to their being worthy of the title that the explorers gave them: aristocratic Negroes.” Chrétien closely examines such colonialist ideas, the misguided practical actions of colonial administration, and their ultimately devastating effects; particularly in Rwanda and Burundi, he notes, Belgian and French rule deliberately cultivated ethnic division just as it “curbed every form of mobility, urbanization, modern association, criticism, and imagination”—as did, he adds, the independent states that followed. Writing more for specialist readers, Chrétien also criticizes the historiography of the region, taking issue with hypothesized “Bantu expansions” and “Hamitic invasions” while investigating what can reliably be said about the rise of kingly states before the European arrival, among other matters. Readers without a grounding in African history may find these discussions bewildering, but Chrétien brings clarity to the interpretation of recent events, especially when he lays ultimate responsibility for murder at the door of ruling elites that “did not know how to construct or reconstruct real nations from ancient and modern heritages,” and that instead were content to produce an ocean of blood.

Mainly for scholars, although anyone with an interest in African affairs will benefit from this analysis.

Pub Date: May 26, 2003

ISBN: 1-890951-34-X

Page Count: 492

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2003

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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