From Publishers Weekly
Swedish author Lindqvist (China in Crisis) offers an unusual diary: the story of his bus trip through the Sahara Desert melded with his exploration of colonialist literature and its modern spawn. Although his conceit sometimes seems strained, Lindqvist hones in on some resonant and uncomfortable truths. European explorers regularly murdered the Africans they encountered, yet the story back home was mostly triumphalism. Conrad's friend R.B. Cunningham Graham was one of the few who acknowledged the impact of imperialist culture shock, and the author finds some vital parallels between the two authors' works. He is led to tally up the costs of colonialism in the Americas and Australia, then, tellingly, to show how German anthropology, once sympathetic to African natives, turned harsh when Germany acquired its colony in South-West Africa, now Namibia. He links the German extermination of the Herero people to the call for lebensraum and to the death camps. Lindqvist argues, "Auschwitz was the modern industrial application of a policy of extermination on which European world domination had long since rested." Illustrations.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Kirkus Reviews
An impressionistic history of European colonialism, in which the author argues that Enlightenment ideals of social evolution and human perfectibility, carried to their logical extreme, resulted in genocide. Taking his title from Joseph Conrad's haunted fable of colonialism, Swedish scholar Lindqvist extends Hannah Arendt's argument that the practice of imperialism demands an ideology of racism, itself a product of Enlightenment scientific theory. Much of his short, essayistic book describes the factual circumstances that informed Conrad's fiction, and in this alone it is a fine contribution to literary history. He turns up contemporary newspaper accounts of a Belgian captain who decorated his flower beds with the heads of African natives; of British massacres of wounded Mahdist soldiers after the battle of Omdurman, in which ``within the space of five hours, the strongest and best-armed savage army yet arrayed against a modern European power had been destroyed and dispersed, with hardly any difficulty''; of German concentration camps in the Namibian desert in which thousands of natives died. Such horrors, Lindqvist writes, were not isolated outbursts of savagery but the outcome of a doctrine that placed Europe at the top of the evolutionary ladder and regarded non-Europeans as a separate species bound for extinction. Lindqvist argues that such thinking leads to Auschwitz, ``the modern industrial application of a policy of extermination on which European world domination had long since rested.'' Peppering the narrative are notes from Lindqvist's travels into the Sahara that occasionally slide into self-indulgence. But these do not detract from the power of his argument or his view that all around us Heart of Darkness is being endlessly restaged. Admirers of Edward Said's Orientalism will find Lindqvist's book an eminently worthy companion. (b&w illustrations) -- Copyright ©1996, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.