Excerpt from The Heartless Stone by Tom Zoellner, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The Heartless Stone

A Journey Through The World of Diamonds, Deceit, and Desire

by Tom Zoellner

The Heartless Stone by Tom Zoellner X
The Heartless Stone by Tom Zoellner
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    May 2006, 288 pages

    Paperback:
    Jun 2007, 304 pages

    Genres

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
BookBrowse Review Team
Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt


When the independence movement swept Africa in the late 1950s, the region was among the first to break away from its colonial masters. The first president, Barthélémy Boganda, consolidated power in 1958 and tried to build a democracy out of the green web of clans and villages that shared little but language and hunger. The name, Central African Republic, was as empty as the results. The first of a long series of military coups took place eight years after independence, when General Jean-Bédel Bokassa and a band of soliders took control of the Presidential Palace. Bokassa began an aggressive program of building up the nation’s infrastructure, and his own wealth, in the process. About half of the 375 kilometers of asphalt road in the country—mostly potholed streets in Bangui—can be credited to Bokassa’s initiative at teasing development money in exchange for uranium that helped France build its nuclear program.

Bokassa’s ego was titanic, even by the supersized standards of twentieth-century African strongmen. He built a new television station to broadcast his speeches, even though there were an estimated forty sets in the entire country at the time. He married seventeen wives, converted back and forth from Islam to Christianity, and had an extra-long military jacket tailored to accommodate all the various medals he awarded himself. But it was not enough. To the astonishment of even his most dedicated sycophants, he decided to declare himself "Emperor Bokassa I," and changed the name of his landlocked nation to the Central African Empire to suit his new title.

He had himself crowned emperor on December 4, 1977, in a spectacle that cost about a third of the nation’s gross national product. Hundreds of mango trees that had lined Bangui’s wide avenues were cut down to better accommodate the imperial procession, and a good portion of the capital’s population was compelled to march behind a train of white horses imported from Belgium, pulling an antique coach decorated with golden eagles. Inside was the new Emperor Bokassa, almost lost within a 32-pound coronation robe with 2 million tiny pearls and crystal beads sewn into the fabric. Atop his head was a crown that cost $2 million, with a doorknob-sized 138-carat diamond as centerpiece.

It was an appropriate symbol, for diamonds had helped keep him in power. Bokassa had given several of his country’s big-carat discoveries to his close ally and game-hunting partner, French president Valéry Giscard d’Estaing. The disclosure of the gifts embarrassed the French president, but not nearly as much as what happened in the winter of 1979. Bokassa decreed that all the nation’s schoolchildren should wear uniforms—and the only uniform producer in Bangui happened to be one of his wives. Poor children (there is almost no other variety of child in Bangui) couldn’t begin to afford the expense and a group of them threw rocks at the emperor’s limousine one day in protest. An enraged Bokassa rounded up approximately one hundred children, innocent and guilty alike, and had them murdered. Bokassa killed many himself, and kept their remains in a refrigerator in his palace.

In the same larder he kept the corpses of some of the political enemies he had liquidated, and Bokassa was said to have snacked on their brains and hearts. The French were mortified enough to engineer a coup that relieved the emperor of power, especially after Bokassa claimed that he had surreptitiously fed human flesh to an unwitting President Giscard d’Estaing during several of their banquets together. The testimony of the palace chef at a 1986 trial was damning. Bokassa was sentenced to lifetime house arrest in a small house in Bangui, where he was treated something like an aged lion in a zoo. He died in 1996.

Copyright © 2006 by Tom Zoellner

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Join BookBrowse

and discover exceptional books
for just $3.75 per month.

Find out more


Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: Moth
    Moth
    by Melody Razak
    On August 15, 1947, India gained independence from the United Kingdom, and on that same day the ...
  • Book Jacket: All the Lonely People
    All the Lonely People
    by Mike Gayle
    Mike Gayle's charming novel All the Lonely People introduces us to Hubert Bird, an 82-year-old ...
  • Book Jacket: Perish
    Perish
    by LaToya Watkins
    It's a commonly cited fact that many perpetrators of sexual abuse, particularly men, are victims of ...
  • Book Jacket: Afterlives
    Afterlives
    by Abdulrazak Gurnah
    Afterlives, from Nobel Prize winner Abdulrazak Gurnah, begins in late 19th century East Africa in ...

Book Club Discussion

Book Jacket
The Ways We Hide
by Kristina McMorris
From the bestselling author of Sold On A Monday, a sweeping tale of an illusionist recruited by British intelligence in World War II.

Members Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Natural History
    by Andrea Barrett

    A masterful new collection of interconnected stories, from the renowned National Book Award–winning author.

  • Book Jacket

    The Family Izquierdo
    by Rubén Degollado

    A masterful debut that weaves together the lives of three generations of a Mexican American family bound by love, and a curse.

Who Said...

A classic is a book that has never finished saying what it has to say

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!

Wordplay

Solve this clue:

Y Can't G H A

and be entered to win..

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.