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THE RACE TO FASHODA European Colonialism and African Resistance in the Scramble for Africa by David Levering Lewis (Weidenfeld & Nicolson: $11.95)

January 01, 1989|ELENA BRUNET

On May 10, 1896, acting on a report by French engineer Victor Prompt that the headwaters of the Nile could be dammed up, "turning the great waterway on and off like a bathtub spigot," Capt. Jean-Baptiste Marchand sails from Marseilles to the French Congo and begins his trek across Africa to the Nile with 150-odd Senegalese soldiers. They arrive in Fashoda in July, 1898.

In the meantime, the British launch an Anglo-Egyptian army of 30,000 men under the leadership of Herbert Kitchener. These men build a railroad across the desert, meet up with another 60,000-man army and arrive in Fashoda in September, 1898.

"On September 19, Marchand and Kitchener exchanged champagne toasts aboard a British gunboat anchored off Fashoda before politely threatening to destroy each other," David Levering Lewis writes in this absorbing history. "On November 4, Paris ordered recently promoted Major Marchand to abandon his fortress."

Drawing from the archives of African states, from newly translated political correspondence as well as memoirs, Lewis exposes the sometimes absurd imperial energies of European states and the emerging role of African nations.

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