Friday, October 29, 2010

Sleeping with ghosts.

History is a funny thing. Today, you can join the throngs of tourists and schoolchildren who visit the Royal Museum of Central Africa in Turvuren, just outside of Brussels. The museum is housed in one of the many palaces built by the Belgian King Leopold, and it purports to tell the history of Belgian involvement in the Congo. You can see taxidermied animals, the famous Henry Morton Stanley's "Stanley cap" (he of "Dr. Livingstone, I presume?" fame), and thousands of pieces of sculpture, art, cooking utensils, outfits, masks, and other objects from the Congo.

What you will not see is a placard, a sign, a brochure, or a video that tells the visitors that under Leopold's very personal direction, approximately eight million Congolese were killed.

You will not see this because Belgian wants to pretend it didn't happen. Yes, little Belgium, the plucky tiny hero country whose invasion by the Nazis finally galvanized the world into starting World War II. Belgium wants to pretend this so badly that, not content with burning much of the official documentation relating to its activities in Africa, it has lost or kept classified what material did survive. In fact, much of the existing documentation was kept secret until the 1980s.

And what a story it is.

Like Meredith's Guns, Diamonds, and War, the conquest and subsequent ravaging of Congo - first for ivory, later for rubber, all harvested by slave labor well after the transcontinental slave trade had been banned - was spurred on by the determined actions of a few driven men with outsized personalities.

The first was King Leopold I, the King of the Belgians. It was under Leopold's aegis, a man who ironically never set foot in the Congo, that it began. Obsessed with owning a colony, Leopold understood that tiny Belgium could not compete with Britain, France, or Spain, and with his own monarchical powers limited by Belgium's government, Leopold began to orchestrate one of the biggest and most skillful swindles in history.

The man who would be responsible for the deaths of several million Congolese, the displacement of countless others, and the maiming of a vast swath of the continent so successfully dressed up his interest in Africa in philanthropic language that he became known as the "humanitarian king." Hiding behind the facade of several shell organizations with names like the "International African Association," Leopold told observers that his motivation was to "pierce the darkness" in a "crusade worthy of this century of progress" and claimed that his ambition was to civilize the Congolese and in no way benefit materially from his activities in Africa.

Through the skillful manipulation of other monarchs, elected officials, the co-opting of the efforts of several well-known explorers" and a simply brilliant use of the press, Leopold managed to gain control of a massive amount of land. Leopold dispatched Belgian administrators, and money from ivory began pouring back to him - yet not actually enriching Belgium, as Leopold very neatly kept the profits hidden, instead using the money to build massive public works, particularly palaces and architectural oddities.

King Leopold's Ghost also details the exploits of the era's most famous explorer, Henry Morgan Stanley.

Stanley is a lie. Henry Morgan Stanley invented himself, in more ways than one. Born illegitimately in Wales as John Rowlands, the man who would become Stanley spent the rest of his life desperately trying to escape the ignominy of his beginnings. Foisted onto unwilling relatives by his mother, he was later taken to a workhouse and abandoned (his mother would reappear with two of his siblings in tow, which she also dumped at the workhouse), John became a shipboy, ending up in New Orleans, where he experimented with a number of different identities before renaming himself Henry Morton. He appropriated the last name of Stanley from his new employer, a cotton broker, claiming that the man loved him like a son and demanded that Henry adopt his last name. Actually, Stanley's relationship with his employer was fractious and he was eventually fired, but this didn't prevent him from putting his fictionalized account in his memoir. Stanley would later go on to claim to be a native-born American, which he often referred to when trying to gin up support from American sources.

The image of Stanley, intrepid in his slightly goofy looking Stanley cap, trekking along the rivers with a trusted retinue of natives in tow, is equally false. Stanley's expeditions were only saved from disaster by luck, he was a vicious and temperamental boss whose porters were essentially enslaved and often worked to death, and he cheerfully used Africans encountered along his trip up the Congo River for target practice, as apparently encountering someone wandering along with a spear or large stick is sufficient provocation to have to open fire with your repeating rifle from your boat in the middle of the river.

As Leopold's interests emerged from their tissue-thin humanitarian and philanthropic veil, he began dispatching adminstrators to the Congo, charged with keeping order over massive plots of land. As the popularity and need for ivory waned and the demand for rubber grew, Leopold rushed to capitalize on the presence of wild rubber in the Congo before his European competitors could mobilize in their own colonies. As with the ivory trade, the rubber trade demanded the use of forced labor, and his administrators expanded their campaign of terror that included the enslavement, murder, and mutilation of millions of Congolese.

At the same time, missionaries from Europe and American began arriving, and again, a few outsized personalities began attempting to expose the atrocities committed against the Congolese. These men included Richard Casement, an Irishman who served as British consul, and E.D. Morel, a writer and agitator, who would become lifelong friends. Both men dedicated their lives to 'Congolese reform,' and both would be imprisoned in the same jail, and Casement hanged. Their efforts, along with those of other missionaries, activists, and writers, including George Washington Williams, a black American who was one of the first to report on the slaughter and systematic abuse of the Congolese, would eventually focus global attention on the Congo and the ire of an international group of reformers against King Leopold.

Adam Hochschild's book is fascinating and alternately enraging, terrifying, and incredibly sad. Hochschild, the author of similar works of historical excavation, including The Unquiet Ghost: The Russians Remember Stalin makes a number of unorthodox but thought-provoking comparisons between the activities of the Belgians in the Congo - not just Leopold in distant Europe, but the actual men who wielded the whips, shot the guns, and maimed the Congolese - with the concentration camps of the Nazis and the men who ran them and between the dissolving of the lines between callous brutality and outright sadism with the actions of Americans in Vietnam.

What emerges in an examination of both a system that enabled such horror and a look at the individual men, revealed in their letters, diaries, and other records, who committed the acts.

In understanding the "sick soft blob" of Zaire, as Martin Meredith calls it, and the rule of Mobutu Sese Seko, you have to go back to where the seeds of such a systemic brutality were sown, and as Hochschild reveals, it originated in Leopold's Congo.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Mixed bag.

So, continuing on yesterday's candy theme, I stumbled upon the ur-candy blog, and I now have a new hero. The way my feelings for this blog's author can be described most accurately is how (stay with me, this is a complicated metaphor) Poncho, the dog from the Pooch Cafe comic strip, feels about Takeru Kobayashi, the world champion hot dog eater.

A combination of awe, envy, and hero-worship.

Candy Blog is amazing. I'm a sugar junkie, but this takes it to a whole other level.

What I like about this blog is that it a) doesn't have any of that whining about how the golden days of American candy are over, to which I will point out a lot of nostalgic American candies were actually fairly gross, and the average consumer can get much more stuff, from many more places, much cheaper than ever before and b) isn't elitist in the slightest. The author, Cybele May, just eats, and eats, and eats candy, any type of candy, and then tells you how she feels about it.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Sweet thing.

Today's New York Times food section has an article about Samira Kawash, the author of the Candy Professor blog. Dr. Kawash, a former Rutgers professor, started Candy Professor after becoming obsessed with candy - the history, the imagery, the production process, and America's complicated relationship with all things sweet.

Candy Professor focuses rather narrowly on American candy, and Dr. Kawash is particularly mesmerized by the evolution of the idea of candy, particularly the heyday of 'scientific cookery' in the 50s, which spawned some awesome ideas as sugar being the ideal diet food:

The candy debate rears its head again after the recent implementation of taxes on candy in Washington State. But, as it turns out, it's harder to figure out what is candy and what isn't than you may think. Granola bars? Well, since you can buy them stuffed with M&Ms and dunked in chocolate (or, the coyly named 'chocolatey coating') why aren't they candy? Washington State dealt with it by publishing an exhaustive list of what they consider candy and therefore taxable under the new regulation, which you can find here. Washington State has decided that stuff made with flour is exempt, which a lot of candy bars are, but stuff like Belly Timber, an absolutely fabulous-sounding concoction made with dates, soy flour, and peanut butter, is.

Candy Professor is funny and breezy, but Kawash does delve into some of the weird psychological underpinnings of the idea of candy, from the old razor-blades-in-the-chocolate Halloween tropes to scare campaigns against "candy drugs" like Strawberry Kwik, a candy-flavored meth product that was allegedly luring high schoolers into its sweetly chemical clutches. Strawberry Kiwk prompted the drafting of legislation criminalizing the act of manufacturing drugs to make them more appealing to minors. The only minor hitch was that Strawberry Kwik didn't ever exist, and no one ever found anything approximating candy-flavored or scented meth.

Of course, the debate rages on, with products like flavored cigarettes from Camel and the latest, a caffeinated, alcoholic, sugary carbonated beverage called Four Loko that is being blamed for cases of severe alcohol poisoning among the newly-legal set - and I can totally understand the appeal, since I used to drink a particularly noxious caffeinated, carbonated, orange-flavored drink called Sparks that tasted like a melted orange SweeTart and had to be drunk ice-cold, because it tasted so awful otherwise (and which, I would argue, is not any different than pounding a Red Bull and vodka). Of course, now that my worry is less the vexing how-do-I-stay-awake-late-into-the-night conundrum facing the kids in the NYT's article and more the God-I-hope-I-don't-nod-off-before-finishing-one-chapter-of-my-book, I can't imagine wanting to drink something so awful, sort of like how no one over the age of 23 should ever consider purchasing an Axe product.

But anyhow, getting back to candy, Candy Professor fills me with nostalgia for the candy shops of my childhood, having grown up in a country known both for its chocolate and its fascism. German candy shops are pretty epic, and on the first day of school every year, you will see adorable rosy-cheeked blonde cherubs tromping off to school with giant, three foot long cardboard cones stuffed full of sweets and chocolate and tied at the top with string. It's a German tradition, the idea apparently being that children will make friends faster if they go to school armed with sugary ammunition, and the resulting unloading and trading of the loot forces them to interact with each other.

Candy shops there are more like American candy shops of the 50s and earlier (and some throwbacks, particularly stores like excellent Sugar Cube in Alexandria), with bins of loose candy. Armed with tongs, you stuffed clear plastic cones with the various types of candy (peach rings, gummy strawberries, gummy frogs, mint drops, gummy bears, licorice wheels, both strawberry and raspberry, sour straws, sugar coated jelly fruit, citrus slices, white marshmallow mice, gumballs wrapped in foil patterned to look like soccer balls) which are sold by weight. My mom would buy the more expensive chocolate, but it was pretty clear from the price and the division of the candy that the bulk candy was meant for kids - both cheaper and more potent, the most sugar for your Deutschmark.

Candy Professor is more fascinating, particularly when Kawash gets into stickier sociopolitical and economic issues surrounding candy and the weird connection between candy, medicine, and science during various nutritional fads in America.

Monday, October 25, 2010

All the guns, and the gold*

If anyone tells you that they don't see why Africa has faced such challenges in development despite having gold, diamonds, minerals, farmland, etc., please throw a copy of Martin Meredith's Diamonds, Gold, and War at them. It's a hefty book, so hopefully the resultant bruise will serve as a reminder that for countries like Africa, parts of Asia, Latin America, Ireland, the Pacific Islands, the Dominican Republic, the Philippines, the Caribbean, and the former French Indochina during Europe's age of empire, the best thing for a country to have was nothing at all of value (and even that didn't save Australia, whose one very valuable asset was lots of empty space, into which Britain promptly dumped a few tons of felons).

The diamonds and gold Meredith mentions in his title guaranteed the war. After all, a country happily sitting on top of gold fields and diamond mines simply couldn't remain under the control of everyone who had lived there since time immemorial. Instead, Africa became the battle ground between the Dutch settlers, called Boers or Afrikanders, and British forces determined to oust the Dutch administration and establish control over South Africa, which it did through a policy of intimidation, trickery, and theft from the native peoples, immigration by British settlers, and a war between the British army and Boer guerillas.

Meredith's book reveals two very interesting things about South Africa. First, the exploitation and rapid development of the diamond and gold industry in South Africa was the result of the activities of an astonishingly small group of men with outsized personalities and secondly, the war between the British and the Boers should be terrifyingly familiar to the modern reader.

In the early 1800s, Europe's involvement in South Africa was limited to two shaky, irregularly defined, and poorly administered republics. The Cape Colony, administered by the British, and the Orange Free State, recognized as a republic of the Netherlands, were populated by a small group of Dutch, German, and more newly arrived British settlers and a much larger indigenous population. Britain would probably have been content to let Cape Colony muddle along, and ignored the Orange Free State, except there was gold (and diamonds!) in them thar hills, and then all hell broke loose.

The discovery of diamonds led to a flood of movement to southern Africa, the establishment of a hasty and dangerous mining industry, and a insatiable need for cheap labor. Dutch and English prospectors converged on the diamond fields, and a few monopolies (de Beers, anyone? Like diamonds, colonialism is starting to feel like forever.) quickly arose, controlled by a small group of wealthy, smart, or just plain lucky men, including Cecil Rhodes. A rough, bizarre man, Rhodes personified the new class of British acquiring power through industry and risky investments in South Africa - a class of men who clashed with the titled men sent by Britain to administer the newly valuable territory.

Meredith takes us through the rise of the mining industry and the increasing tension between the Boer settlers and the British as wave after wave of settlers and prospectors arrived. Caught between two European powers, African leaders faced the prospect of acquiescence to the insatiable demand for land and mineral rights by one or the other, and many signed 'treaties' in vain attempts to preserve their sovereignty and the safety of their tribes.

Eventually, tensions between the British and the Boers erupted into war. The British sent thousands of troops into Africa, expecting a quick and cheap military victory - a "tea-time war" as the London newspapers put it. Instead, through a combination of poor strategic decisions, lack of understanding of the terrain, and the determination of their enemy, Britain found themselves mired in an expensive, long, and surprisingly deadly war.

Britain sent an army expecting and trained for conventional warfare that found itself instead facing a guerilla war between fighters indistinguishable from the civilian population. The cumbersome British army was outmaneuvered by the Boer guerilla fighters, who had the advantage of familiarity with the ground and support from the Boer civilians.

Britain responded with a scorched-earth policy, burning Boer farms and homesteads and displacing thousands of civilians, most of whom were women and children. Boer families faced the option of starvation on the veldt, or internment in concentration camps. Nearly 30,000 Boers, mostly children under sixteen and women, died in the British concentration camps, mostly of diseases like typhoid and measles. The conditions were so horrendous that British visitors published outraged letters in London newspapers describing what they had seen. The British established concentration camps for Africans suspected of being in sympathy with the Boers, and the camps claimed the lives of 14,000 Africans.

Eventually, the Boer resistance realized it had to face capitulation to the British or complete extinction. In 1902, peace talks between the British and Boers began. Johannesburg was named capital of the new British South Africa in April of 1902. Four years later, the British administration faced a revolt of the Bantu people, which it defeated. Increasingly harsh legislation directed towards Africans was enacted in the decade following, culminating in the development of the beginning of the system of apartheid shortly thereafter, which would not end for another fifty years.

Meredith is one of the pre-eminent Africa scholars, and Diamonds is an excellent book, with both meticulous research and masterful writing. Meredith's journey into the inner workings of the small group of European men who controlled the rise of the South African mining industry is particularly fascinating. Yet, unfortunately, the African people whose land it was receive scant attention in his book, aside from documenting the interactions between land-hungry British prospectors and African chiefs, and mention of the African population as resource and administrative headache for the British and the Dutch. It is perhaps clear from his surtitle, "The British, the Boers, and the Making of South Africa" that Meredith considers South Africa an invention of the Europeans, and he views its history through this prism.

Still, despite it being rather one-dimensional, Meredith's history is an excellent look into the machinations of two powers as they fought an unconventional war over a piece of land thousands of miles away from the seat of their empires.

*title lifted from Metric's "Guns Gold Girls" album.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Apocalypse wow.

Imagine that World War III happened and no one told you.* A war with roughly 4 million dead (and thousands more from indirect causes), armies from five countries rampaging across three nations, the invasion of one of the largest countries on the continent, and the fall of a decades-long dictatorship. Now, imagine that clashes and civilian massacres continue nearly ten years after the war has supposedly ended. And no one notices.

Gerard Prunier's Africa's World War begins in 1994, after the 'end' of the Rwandan genocide. The genocide may have been the tinder, but the conflagration it started is still burning. As the genocide raged, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) began moving into Rwanda from Uganda and overpowering the Hutu military and interahamwe. The RFP was composed mostly of Tutsis and the children of Tutsis who had fled from Rwanda into Uganda but remained a connected diasporic network. And they won. A river of refugees flooded away from the 'returnees' of the RPF, accompanied by many genocidaires, and set up vast refugee camps along the Rwanda-Burundi border.

In the aftermath of the genocide, the returnees killed Tutsi and Hutu alike, even those who had not participated, or had even actively resisted, the genocidaires. The international community, so conveniently absent during the genocide, was now so paralyzed with guilt that it would not react to this new development. Soon, the new powers turned their sites on the refugee camps, and a system of massacres and forced displacements began. At the same time, a coalition of African leaders had set their sites on Zaire, home of the bloated, corrupt, and erratic dictator Mobutu Sese Seko.

Rwanda leapt first.

Over the next year, armies fought with each other and tribal militias, as the preexisting tensions between different tribal groups in the areas near the Zairean border erupted. The threat to Mobutu's dictatorship threatened the stability of all of South Africa, and the porous border and ineffective army of unpaid soldiers of Zaire could not stop it. A rule of enemy-of-my-enemy developed, with fractious neighbors Rwanda and Uganda siding with each other against Zaire, even as tensions between their forces grew.

After Mobutu was removed, Laurent-Desire Kabila took his place. Kabila, an erratic, violent, and unpredictable leader left the government of Zaire in ruins, while Rwanda, Uganda, Angola, Zimbabwe, and Sudan (with some help from Chadian soldiers, sent by Libya's Gaddafi) fought over the bloated carcass that was Zaire. With the mineral and diamond mines on the line, fighting turned into a campaign of terror. The civilian casualties were staggering, with thousands more displaced and facing death by starvation and disease. Meanwhile, the UN flailed about with useless peace agreements worth less than the paper on which they were printed, and a cohort of regional experts misread the signs and misunderstood the motivations of the leaders involved.

With the assassination of Kabila and the ascension of his son, Joseph, things began to calm down. While overt fighting stopped, clashes between the multitudinous fighting groups and tribal militias continued, as soldiers switched sides and warlords emerged, preying on the already decimated civilian population. The remnants, including the Lord's Resistance Army and the FDLR (Forces Democratiques de Liberation du Rwanda) continue to fester in the eastern Congo-Rwanda borderlands.

Prunier doubts that Congo will erupt in civil war again, but warns the reader that the violence in the eastern Great Lakes region continues its slow boil. Although events in 2008 looked promising, the civilian population continues to be terrorized (see, the recent mass rapes on the Congolese border, less than twenty miles from a UN 'peacekeeping' force outpost).

Why did the world ignore it, and when it did act, why was it so ineffectual? Simply put, no Western power is going to commit soldiers to Africa to stop a war that isn't the type of war they're used to, in a land they don't care about, without any resources in the offing, with a dizzying and unintelligible array of tribal and political groups. It seems that once foreign policy got more complicated than communism bad, capitalism good, no one could figure out what was going on, and even if they could, residual guilt from 1996 kept them from acting.

Prunier's book is hard to read, and harder to understand. After all, this is a book with eleven pages of tiny type just to try to explain who the various groups involved are. But it's also meticulously researched and painstakingly written, and extremely important in understanding what is happening there today.

*Perhaps it is because America was so distracted with the death of JonBenet Ramsey in 1996 that it didn't have enough brain cells left over with which to pay attention to another continent. After all, today at the checkout line I saw her now-strangely-anachronistic face staring at me from the cover of a tabloid, fourteen years after the fact.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Revisionist Mystery.

History is a sensitive subject. Texas is, once again, in a textbook brouhaha over having decided to rewrite its textbook standards. Because Texas purchases so many textbooks, it has a disproportionate effect on how textbooks are written when it changes its requirements. This time, Texas is emphasizing the role of religion, specifically Christianity, in the American Revolution, capitalism, and Republic political activity (Reagan? You get a chapter. Roosevelt? A sidebar calling you a welfare queen.)

I attended public school is Texas, which I would like to say to parents is roughly as smart as letting your kid play hopscotch on the interstate. Texas doesn't really teach American history. They teach Texas history, which is like Texas toast: unnecessarily big but not very filling and pretty bad for you.

See, in Texas history, they skip over that whole time TEXAS WAS PART OF THIS PLACE CALLED MEXICO EVERYBODY and instead spend an inordinate amount of time of the Battle of the Alamo and Texas joining the Union. Because this is actually a very tiny fraction of Texas' history and they refuse to talk about, you know, Texas when it was still part of Mexico, the teacher would usually run out of steam about halfway through the semester and we'd spend the rest of our time doodling moustaches on the paintings of heroic American soldiers defending Texas' right to rather randomly decide, based on the interests of a whole lot of people who were not Mexican, that it really didn't want to be part of Mexico anymore.

But whatever - my point being, history is an incredibly valuable currency, which is why people have fought and died over the right to talk about something that happened a certain way. Like, right now, there is a whole country of people who believe that they won several incredible naval battles with the US (they didn't), that their Dear Leader guided their soccer team to victory in the World Cup using his mind (he didn't), and since they have only one TV channel showing biopics of said Dear Leader and no access to the actual history of the rest of the world, most of them probably believe it. When you only get one narrative, you don't get to choose your worldview - it's decided for you.

Which brings me to Zinn's A People's History of the United States. I will say up front that Zinn definitely has his own biases, and that's okay - after all, this isn't The Incredibly Objective and Definitely Straightforward History of the United States, and Zinn says it himself in the first chapter: "I prefer to try to tell the story of the discovery of America from the viewpoint of the Arawaks, of the Constitution from the standpoint of the slaves, of Andrew Jackson as seen by the Cherokees, of the Civil War as seen by the New York Irish." But Zinn also writes that his point is not to dredge up a litany of offenses, but instead present a viewpoint of history that is skeptical, that attempts to poke through the easy veneer of the winning and the powerful, and look more closely at dissent, revolution, and those who gummed up the works of a system instead of taking their place as cogs.

Zinn starts by tackling the mythos of America, land of the rugged, proud individual, of unlimited chances for advancement, of personal grit and equality, embodied in both the personalities of its founders and its Constitution. Instead, Zinn points out an alternate history - that America, like England, had a radically unequal society, no middle class to speak of, a huge gap between rich and poor. Because the rich wrote the rules, the rules protected them and their industry at the expense of indentured Europeans, slaves, and Indians.

Zinn pursues this theme through the modern American industrial age and traces the development of a burgeoning American Socialist movement, which most historians ignore and Texas, I'm sure, would hastily excise from its textbooks. The horrendous working conditions and the use of humans as grist for the industrial machine led to acts of astonishing bravery and a socialist movement, that while not powerful enough to exercise significant change, was at least worrisome enough to those who controlled (as Marx would put it) the means of production to take note that the underclass would only tolerate so much.

Zinn takes the reader through the Spanish American War, fought in the Philippines, the Civil War, World Wars 1 and 2, Vietnam, and 9/11. His analysis is more detailed, thorough, and thoughtful in the earlier chapters - everything post-Vietnam feels rushed and less considered. Certainly, those readers wedded to a certain prism through which to examine American history - a prism less open to its flaws and its great injustices - will think Zinn's book biased. But it's also very valuable for its willingness to expose the fault lines and the fissures of American history, rather than presenting it as one unbroken wall. The underside of history is often the most valuable - otherwise, why would anyone try so hard to hide it?

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Transmission of Terror

Jessica Stern was the expert on terrorism before everyone else became an expert on terrorism. Her 2001 book, The Ultimate Terrorists, and her 2003 book, Terror in the Name of God, showed what everyone else was missing: that terrorism was, and is, a unique force in shaping the idea of conflict in the 21st century. While everyone else was grubbing around in the rubble of the collapsed Soviet Union and spending billions of dollars of elaborate missile shields and ever more massive destroyers, Stern was traveling through Palestine, Iraq, and Afghanistan and interviewing the modern architects of terror.

That Stern saw the threads of the modern terrorist threat before many others were listening or taking it seriously is remarkable, but even more fascinating is that Stern, a Jewish woman, successfully interviewed dozens of terrorists, even during and after the kidnapping and murder of Daniel Pearl. How did Stern do it?

Denial: A Memoir of Terror is Stern's attempt to explain that, both to herself and to readers. Denial traces Stern's revisit of her and her sister's rapes as young teenagers in safe, suburban Concord. What Stern found out during the course of her research is no less astonishing, and infuriating, than what she's uncovered in her other work.

Stern had, or thought she had, successfully moved past the trauma of her rape. She credited her psychological survival, and her later success at interviewing some of the world's most dangerous men, to her ability to disassociate herself from her emotions and completely eliminate any feelings of terror. But at the same time, Stern writes that as she felt less and less terror, she felt less and less joy. The numbness was spreading.

Stern discovered that the idea she had harbored of her attack as a grotesque aberration in an otherwise safe town was an illusion, and her research also exposed fault lines in her family that had lain dormant for decades.

In the course of her research, Stern discovered that despite her attacker committing similar crimes with nearly identical characteristics, the Concord police refused to believe that there was a serial attacker in their district. They closed Stern's file after barely two weeks of lackadaisical investigation, insinuating that she and her sister knew their attacker and lied about it.

Brian Beat went on to assault forty-four other women and girls. One committed suicide.

With the help of a police lieutenant, Stern collected redacted copies of related cases, seeing clearly for the first time how her assault fit into a wider web of violence. Although Beat killed himself before Stern began her research, and she was never able to answer this definitively, Stern's discovery of a ring of pedophiliac priests and their now-adult victims, many of whom knew Beat, in a lower-income town near her upper-class enclave led her to conclude that Beat was one of their victims.

Why did Stern title this memoir Denial? Denial, more than terror, permeates the book, from the reaction of her father to the inaction of the police. In a series of interviews with her father, Stern revisits her assault and her mother's death, and, using the techniques honed in her interviews with terrorists, begins probing at the gulf between her memories and her father's recollection.

Denial is a raw, almost breathless book. Unlike the measured prose of her other works, Denial unspools in layers as Stern's attack on her topic unravels layers of silence and denial around her assault, her father's absence, and her mother's death.