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

2021
Author(s)
Publisher
W.W. Norton

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.