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In the Forest of No Joy: The Congo-Océan Railroad and the Tragedy of French Colonialism (2021)

Tekijä: J. P. Daughton

JäseniäKirja-arvostelujaSuosituimmuussijaKeskimääräinen arvioMaininnat
454555,098 (3.3)4
"The epic story of the Congo-Océan railroad and the human costs and contradictions of modern empire. The Congo-Océan railroad stretches across the Republic of Congo from Brazzaville to the Atlantic port of Pointe-Noir. It was completed in 1934, when Equatorial Africa was a French colony, and it stands as one of the deadliest construction projects in history. Colonial workers were subjects of an ostensibly democratic nation whose motto read "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity," but liberal ideals were savaged by a cruelly indifferent administrative state. Native workers were forcibly conscripted and suffered under hellish conditions-hunger, disease, rampant physical abuse-that resulted in at least 20,000-25,000 deaths. In the Forest of No Joy captures in vivid detail the experiences of the men, women, and children who toiled on the railroad, and forces a reassessment of the moral relationship between modern industrialized empires and what could be called global humanitarian impulses-the desire to improve the lives of people outside of Europe"--… (lisätietoja)
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näyttää 4/4
Simply said, this is an effort to give an accounting of the worst sustained atrocity that you've never heard of, as the administration of French Equatorial Africa punched a railroad from the Atlantic Ocean to Brazzaville on the Congo River, a project started in a spasm of misplaced enthusiasm, and sustained by an almost total disregard for human life. The death count as a direct impact of the railroad was likely north of 20,000 souls lost. One suspects that the only reason conditions improved is that it became realized that there was an actual chance of running out of the workers needed to make this project happen.

As to how this could have happened, there are never any great answers, but Daughton includes as factors the pervasive racism of the French administrative and construction staff, a long-term tradition of brute force to get things done in the colony, and how the inmates had basically taken over the asylum; there being no strong direction from the French central government that might have asked the hard questions. That the French governor of the colony, Raphael Antonetti, was a genius of misdirection, denial, and euphemism, in his efforts to see that the project continued forward one lethal mile after the other, might have been the special ingredient.

If I have questions, it's what did the higher French political leadership really think of this. Over the 1920s there was some falling out with the Belgian government, so perhaps there was the strategic element of not becoming dependent on the Belgian infrastructure. I also wonder about straight-up corruption as, for over a decade, this was a steady meal ticket for the company building the railroad, the Societe de Construction des Batignolles. Perhaps it's as simple that the average French voter didn't care, so long as relatively little of their taxes went to this boondoggle, as there was certainly no lack of press coverage of this ongoing outrage.

A tough read, but relevant if one wants to have a comparative sense of 20th-century officialdom at its worst. ( )
  Shrike58 | May 27, 2023 |
The epic story of the Congo-Océan railroad and the human costs and contradictions of modern empire. The Congo-Océan railroad stretches across the Republic of Congo from Brazzaville to the Atlantic port of Pointe-Noir. It was completed in 1934, when Equatorial Africa was a French colony, and it stands as one of the deadliest construction projects in history. Colonial workers were subjects of an ostensibly democratic nation whose motto read "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity," but liberal ideals were savaged by a cruelly indifferent administrative state. African workers were forcibly conscripted and separated from their families, and subjected to hellish conditions as they hacked their way through dense tropical foliage--a "forest of no joy"; excavated by hand thousands of tons of earth in order to lay down track; blasted their way through rock to construct tunnels; or risked their lives building bridges over otherwise impassable rivers. In the process, they suffered disease, malnutrition, and rampant physical abuse, likely resulting in at least 20,000 deaths. In the Forest of No Joy captures in vivid detail the experiences of the men, women, and children who toiled on the railroad, and forces a reassessment of the moral relationship between modern industrialized empires and what could be called global humanitarian impulses--the desire to improve the lives of people outside of Europe. Drawing on exhaustive research in French and Congolese archives, a chilling documentary record, and heartbreaking photographic evidence, J.P. Daughton tells the epic story of the Congo-Océan railroad, and in doing so reveals the human costs and contradictions of modern empire.
  LarkinPubs | Mar 1, 2023 |
There is no joy in this book, about “forced African labor” to build a railroad across Congo to the Pacific in the 1920-30s. “Recruited” (often captured) from Chad all the way to Congo, they were chained together when walking or standing for weeks on end on river barges to their work sites. Forced to work under pain of death with practically nothing to eat (less than fed to Nazi concentration camp victims) using no tools to clear forests & dig tunnels with nothing but their bare hands, the men died in droves. If you thought slavery had ended in the 19th century then you are sadly mistaken. The French claimed to be bringing civilization to Africa: the railroad! In his intro the author tried to dismiss the notion this book is “pain porn.” But I’m not sure how it could be otherwise. This is an extraordinarily dark chapter in French history. We are the better for being made aware of it and how, despite many trying to raise the alarm about what was happening, the great machinery of government power and bureaucracy trivialized and covered it up. Little known because of the almost immediate World War II, the author is using this book to try to resurrect the facts for a modern audience. It’s well written and researched but beware trigger warnings abound. ( )
  KarenMonsen | Sep 4, 2022 |
Somehow, I was a little disappointed by this book. I realize the author was trying to give context to the horrors that were inflicted on the African laborers building the titular railroad, but it seemed to me at times there was more attention paid to the context, than to the actual construction of the railroad itself. Maybe a re-reading will adjust the balance, but I simply didn't feel satisfied by the book in that regard. One unusual (positive) thing about the book is that the text specifically refers to nearby photographs and discusses them, far better than any ordinary caption could do, an innovation that other authors should try. There's a few maps in the book, but I think it could have stood a few more maps near the discussions. Maybe a re-reading, as I say, could improve my view of the book, but as it stands right now, "King Leopold's Ghost" is a far better book on the subject. ( )
1 ääni EricCostello | Oct 26, 2021 |
näyttää 4/4
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Englanninkielinen Wikipedia

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"The epic story of the Congo-Océan railroad and the human costs and contradictions of modern empire. The Congo-Océan railroad stretches across the Republic of Congo from Brazzaville to the Atlantic port of Pointe-Noir. It was completed in 1934, when Equatorial Africa was a French colony, and it stands as one of the deadliest construction projects in history. Colonial workers were subjects of an ostensibly democratic nation whose motto read "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity," but liberal ideals were savaged by a cruelly indifferent administrative state. Native workers were forcibly conscripted and suffered under hellish conditions-hunger, disease, rampant physical abuse-that resulted in at least 20,000-25,000 deaths. In the Forest of No Joy captures in vivid detail the experiences of the men, women, and children who toiled on the railroad, and forces a reassessment of the moral relationship between modern industrialized empires and what could be called global humanitarian impulses-the desire to improve the lives of people outside of Europe"--

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