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

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
BookBrowse Review Team

Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt


Children drunk on glue wander the filthy core of Bangui in broken flip-flops, begging for francs. Their T-shirts from Western aid agencies are often dotted with gummy clots; this is where they have smeared the glue to huff through the cloth. Shoe polish is another favorite intoxicant—it is spread on bread like jelly and eaten for a high. Still others take a stolen audiotape and soak it in a jar of water for a week. The resulting home brew brings strange hallucinations. Some of the street children will grab their crotches when they approach new faces for coins. Trading sex for money is common here, despite a national rate of AIDS infection estimated at one in every seven persons. "It’s not always for money," a French schoolteacher told me. "Children need affection, to be touched is instinctual, and this is the only way a lot of them can get it."

The borders have been sealed to foreigners ever since the latest in a long series of coups toppled the government in March 2003, so there is really only one legitimate way in or out. That’s the once-weekly Air France flight from Paris, which is inevitably crowded with a slice of the nation’s tiny ruling class—the only ones who can afford the fare. The Sunday morning arrival of Air France is a free-for-all in the northern part of the city of Bangui. Hundreds of taxi hustlers and freelance luggage porters cram close to the perimeter fence as they watch the passengers step from one world into another, out of the air-conditioned cabin with its fois gras and Bordeaux and copies of Paris Match and into the fecund obscurity.

In a waiting room nearby, with thick wire mesh and tattered curtains covering the windows, are the departing passengers. They are protected like dignitaries from the masses outside. I learned later that some of them were almost certainly carrying a highly portable fortune in the folds of their business suits and warm-up jackets. They were able to carry wealth that equaled the annual wages of more than two thousand people. And without showing a bulge.

This is because the Central African Republic—corrupt, destitute, and nearly forgotten by the rest of the world—has been one of the best places on the continent to erase the history of a dirty diamond and smuggle it into the legitimate market.

I came because I wanted to see how it was done.

 
History has never been happy here. There have been people living in primitive agricultural settlements in this part of Africa at least five centuries before Christ, but today, the region is one of the most depopulated on the continent, a consequence of heavy slave-raiding activity in the seventeenth century. Arab bands from the north captured entire tribes and sold them to slave traders on the coast, and later on elevated blocks in Cairo. If any coherent records existed, it is likely that many American blacks could trace their ancestral lines to villages that disappeared centuries ago.

The French seized the region from an Egyptian sultan in the 1880s, named it Oubangui-Chari, and made it a department of a vast bloc of colonial real estate called French Equatorial Africa. They also built a plantation-style economy and set up the ramshackle capital of Bangui on a river port, positioned to move ivory and cotton out to the Atlantic. Export companies became the effective rulers of the colony. When André Gide visited the region in 1925, he called it "a country in ruins for the profit of a few." The adults were forced to harvest wild rubber while their children were taught to speak French and encouraged to forget their native language of Sango. The French also introduced their cooking, and in some of the farthest villages, it is possible to spend a few francs for a baguette, still gritty with black ash from the open fire it has been baked over.

Copyright © 2006 by Tom Zoellner

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • 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 $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket
    Love and Other Consolation Prizes
    by Jamie Ford
    Love and Other Consolation Prizes was read and reviewed by 22 BookBrowse members for First ...
  • Book Jacket: The Judge Hunter
    The Judge Hunter
    by Christopher Buckley
    In London 1664, Balthasar de St. Michel or "Balty" has no discernable skills besides pestering his ...
  • Book Jacket: Star of the North
    Star of the North
    by D.B. John
    It's summertime. You're looking for an absorbing thriller while you flop at the beach. ...
  • Book Jacket: The Abbot's Tale
    The Abbot's Tale
    by Conn Iggulden
    The Abbot's Tale purports to be a re-discovered manuscript written by a real historical figure,...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
Mississippi Blood by Greg Iles

New York Times bestselling author Greg Iles illuminates the brutal history of the American South.

About the book
Join the discussion!

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    The Summer Wives
    by Beatriz Williams

    An electrifying postwar fable of love, class, power and redemption set on an island off the New England coast.
    Reader Reviews

Win this book!
Win A Place for Us

A Place For Us

A deeply moving story of love, identity and belonging--the first novel from Sarah Jessica Parker's new imprint.

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

H, W H A Problem

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.