Fiction

This list covers works of fiction whose subject/setting is Congo.  They are written by a far-flung group of authors around the globe.  I have done my best to provide a brief synopsis of these works and indicate some of the important ways these texts have been produced, received and used.

 

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, published 1902

This is a fictional account of a hired sailor traveling the Congo river on a steamer for a company that collects and transports ivory for European markets.  Part of Marlowe's job involves finding and retrieving Kurtz, a man with legendary abilities to collect ivory and, thus, a man key to the company's continued profit.  The story is largely based on Conrad's personal travels on a Congo steamer in 1890.  In fact, "The Congo Diary" is a nonfictional account later published that relates the raw experience informing this novel.  In its time, Heart of Darkness served to help expose the brutality of colonial methods and to show the contradictions between Belgium's advertized mission (humanitarian aid and bestowing the benefits of civilization on the Congolese) and its real goal: voracious exploitation of both human and natural resources.  Modern scholarship has engaged in considerable debate over Conrad's representation of native Congolese.  Congo and its people are described from Marlowe's (and Conrad's) limited outsider perspective as he floats down the banks of the river from one site of exploitation to the next.  He never sees a peaceful community environment  in Congo; he witnesses only the disruptions and violence of colonialism and what he calls "the vilest scramble for loot that ever disfigured the history of human concience and geographical exploration."  That limitation must be kept in full view while reading the novel, so you realize that this is a story about a scenario of colonial violence not a story that seeks to describe a nation or people.

 

King Leopold's Soliloquy by Mark Twain, published 1905

This Mark Twain's satirical speech in which King Leopold of Belgium, who made the Congo his personal property from 1885-1908, talks to himself in the fashion of a diabolical villain   explaining his plan and pleased with his own cleverness.  He is shown as mercurial, greedy, amoral--one might even say he is given a sociopathic character.  Here is the profile of a mass murderer who knows and even at times takes pleasure in the deaths of the Congolese he causes.  He is interested in one thing above all else: power.  The piece functioned in its day as an exposure of King's silver-tongued falsehoods; it is peppered with quotes from newspapers, witness accounts, and historical facts.  The soliloquy is a synthesis of these elements that clearly show the contradiction between Leopold's polite promises of help and his barbaric actions in the Congo.  This is important to note because Leopold had carefully cultivated a reputation as a hero of the Congolese people in Europe and America and he was widely regarded as he wished to be seen: as an elegant, refined, well-spoken, morally-upright leader.  He first legitimized his intervention in Congo with a paternal concern that roused almost universal sympathy in the wake of widespread abolition (ie. 1865 US officially abolished slavery nationwide): he expressed a felt responsibility to "save the Congolese" from Arab slave traders who menaced them.  He explained eloquently that it was his responsibility to "bring light to the darkness" and give the gifts of civilization to the natives in Congo as a way of lifting them out of their misery.   Meanwhile, he set up a regime far worse than any problem he claimed as the reason for his presence in Congo.  As the soliloquy shows, he made out like a bandit, profiting obscenely from ivory and rubber trade collected through forced labor, while Congolese died in the millions.

 

More to come...  Here are some of the titles I intend to write about:

 

A Bend in the River by V.S. Naipaul
The Catastrophist by Ronan Bennett
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
Broken Glass by Alain Mabanckou
Little Boys Come from the Stars (French) by Emmanuel Dongala
Johnny Mad Dog (French) by Emmanuel Dongala
The Dream of the Celt (Spanish: El sueño del celta) Mario Vargas Llosa.