Capsule Review

Season of Blood: A Rwandan Journey; Exterminate All the Brutes: One Man's Odyssey Into the Heart of Darkness and the Origins of European Genocide

In This Review

Season of Blood: A Rwandan Journey
By Fergal Keane
Viking, 1996 198 pp. $22.95 Purchase
Exterminate All the Brutes: One Man's Odyssey Into the Heart of Darkness and the Origins of European Genocide
By Sven Lindqvist
Free Press, 1996 179 pp. $20.00 Purchase

These two superbly written African travelogues share a theme: genocide and the human depravity at its roots. Keane, a skilled journalist who covered the 1994 Rwandan massacres for the BBC, has written "a diary of an encounter with evil beyond any scope of reference I might have had when the journey began." While lacking the depth of analysis or detail found in the accounts by Gerard Prunier and African Rights, Keane's reporting powerfully engages the reader -- heart, mind, and senses -- in the terror and horror of the genocide and its catastrophic aftereffects.

Lindqvist, a Swedish writer with a discerning eye and a broad intellectual repertoire, has written "the story of a man traveling by bus through the Sahara desert and, at the same time, traveling by computer through the history of the concept of extermination." Lindqvist presumes that generations born after World War II have largely been raised on liberal assumptions about human equality, tolerance, and the desirability of preserving biological and cultural diversity. Thus they insufficiently appreciate the hold of social Darwinism over preceding generations, among whom there were reputable intellectual defenders of genocide -- the extermination of "less fit" peoples whose lands and resources were coveted by more powerful rivals. He vividly reminds us of Belgian brutalities in the Congo, the murderous heroics of Henry Morton Stanley, the near-extinction of Native Americans, Tasmanians, and Hereros, and the atrocities of French colonial conquest in West Africa. The list is just a sample from the bloodstained annals of European imperialism. Among his conclusions: when Hitler was a child, "the air he breathed" was noxious with rationalizations for genocide derived from European colonial history. And even today, when children are dying from the "whip of debt that whistles over poor countries," the educated public is not ignorant of the outrages "committed in the name of Progress, Civilization . . . and the Market," but, as in the past, too often chooses to ignore or excuse them.

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