The Dawn Watch

Reasonably well-read people will know that Joseph Conrad wrote Heart of Darkness after spending time in Congo. Maybe you didn’t know Conrad only made one trip up the river and on returning to Leopoldville, before even leaving the colony, wrote

“Decidedly I regret having come here. I even regret it bitterly….”

Most people will also have the vague knowledge that Congo produced rubber. Maybe you didn’t realize how perfectly nasty that business was.

You had to go into the rainforest, your feet squelching deep into mud and standing water, hoping not to step on a snake, ears pricked for the rustle of leopards a pounce away. You had to pick out a rubber vine in the vegetable tangle, then shimmy up its stalk to a point soft enough that you could slice it to release the sap. It was faster just to cut a vine in half, but because that killed the vine, the state forbade it. You had to wait for the creamy liquid to drop into your pot, then wait for it to thicken and gum into latex. The easiest way was to smear the sap over your body. Once it dried, you could tear it off your skin (taking your hair or skin with it, if needed) and roll it up into balls. It could take days to fill your basket with enough tough, gray pellets to satisfy the state or company agent.”

Get yourself a copy of The Dawn Watch: Joseph Conrad in a Global World by Maya Jasanoff and you’ll learn much more. Ms. Jasanoff opens and closes the book with some of her travels to research the book, and while those sections are brief I’d have been eager to read a whole book about her own travel.

The Dawn Watch is a fine travelogue/biography and I recommend it heartily.

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