10 Valiant Things about Svetlana Alexievich’s “Voices from Chernobyl”

Voices from Chernobyl

by Svetlana Alexievich

Nikki’s Rating: 10 out of 10

Summary: The haunting account of survivors of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Svetlana Alexievich interviewed not just people who lived there but workers at the nuclear plant, scientists, doctors, soldiers, wives of firefighters, re-settlers, and those involved with the clean up including miners, helicopter pilots, and liquidators. Each story is tragic and harrowing as the aftermath of the disaster continues 10 years later and into the foreseeable future.

10 Valiant Things about Svetlana Alexievich’s Voices from Chernobyl

(May Contain Spoilers)

1. Survivors

The biggest reason why Svetlana Alexievich’s Voices from Chernobyl is so powerful is because it is in the survivors’ own words. Alexievich didn’t edit their words, try to soften them, or change their stories to fit her own perceptions. Many of these stories are horrific but they are real. Someone lived that nightmare and their story is worth being heard.

2. Diversity

Alexievich didn’t stick to interviewing just people who lived in the Zone, she actively searched and interviewed people who were affected by the Chernobyl disaster through different means. Thousands of people got radiation not from living in the Zone but from being involved with the clean up and containment of the nuclear reactor. These include soldiers, miners, liquidators, pilots, and firefighters.

3. Cover-Up

Of course, one of the worst things that Russia did during the Chernobyl disaster is the government attempted to cover-up how bad the disaster really was. Whether to keep face internationally or to avoid panic within the country, the government consistently denied the dangers and they still continue to do so. As noted in Voices from Chernobyl, a physicist in 1999 came forward claiming that living and farming in Belarus was dangerous due to radiation levels and was therefore imprisoned until 2005, upon release he was exiled and remains so.

4. Ignorance

One of the most surprising things to me was the disbelief that many people did have about the effects of radiation even after being warned by those in authority. There were areas that the government did actually evacuate and deemed unsafe for people to stay in and yet many people chose to stay or returned after being evacuated. These people continued eating food grown in the area and used milk and meat from contaminated livestock. One individual described radiation as believable as fairy dust, it cannot be seen and so it must be magic, it is of no consequence to them.

5. Clean-Up

While at times incredibly hard to read, Voices from Chernobyl gives details about how clean-up was done after the disaster. The burying of not just the top layers of soil but of everything above ground in some areas. The systematic killing of livestock, pets, and any animals found within the Zone. And then of course the evacuations of people within the Zone.

6. Willful Negligence

Voices of Chernobyl clearly shows the willful negligence and disregard for life that the Russian government had at the time of the disaster. Not only did they not distribute adequate protective gear for those responding to the disaster, they also didn’t educate them on safety measures that they could have taken. For example, authorities didn’t explain to the clean up crews and soldiers that their clothes would retain radiation. One liquidator allowed his son to wear the cap he wore in the Zone often with no thought of it, his then healthy son developed a brain tumor 2 years later.

7. Aftermath

Many of the stories in Voices of Chernobyl are not about the disaster itself but rather the continuing aftermath. The severely ill children, the high mortality rates, babies being born with defects, women unable to get pregnant or suffering from multiple miscarriages. Each year in Belarus, the number of people with cancer, neurological disorders, mental retardation, and genetic mutations increases.

8. Denial

Going along with the need to cover-up the effects of the Chernobyl disaster, Russia continues to deny them and the devastation radiation can cause. Officially, Russia accepts the Chernobyl death toll of 54 individuals. Many organizations, including the UN, believe that the death toll number is in the thousands with others believing that it may in the hundreds of thousands, if not millions. Without the government taking responsibility, many families will continue being burdened with expensive medical bills from their loved ones illnesses that were actually caused by radiation due to Chernobyl.

9. The Motherland

So many stories included a sense of pride in the Motherland that I’ve come to associate with the Russian people. While Chernobyl was an epic disaster, many of these stories included love for their fellow man and pride for their country. So many times in tragedy, we show our capability for courage, selflessness, and dedication to the greater good. There were those who knew the dangers of the radiation, who knew they were risking their lives, and still reported to Chernobyl to do what they could for the world, the Motherland, and their loved ones.

10. Love

Overall reading Voices from Chernobyl was difficult as the stories are all heartbreaking to various degrees. But regardless of the sorrow, pain, and suffering, the stories also included love and hope. Love for their land, their home, their family, their friends, their animals. That regardless of this tragedy in their lives, they will go forward and live the best life that they can.


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6 Utmost Things about Jon Krakauer’s “Under the Banner of Heaven”

Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith

by Jon Krakauer

Nikki’s Rating: 6 out of 10

Summary: In July 1984, a woman and her child were brutally murdered by two brothers who believed they were doing God’s work. Looking into the murders and what led these men to do it, Jon Krakauer discovers the violent history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. With intensive research, Krakauer takes readers through this history and shows the dangers of fundamentalism of America’s fastest growing religion.

6 Utmost Things about Jon Krakauer’s Under the Banner of Heaven

(May Contain Spoilers)

1. Bias

Writing about religion is generally controversial as critics will either claim that the author is villainizing the faith or on the other extreme, prothetizing and only showing the positives. In his “Author’s Remarks”, Jon Krakauer not only shares his personal positive experiences with Mormons, he also includes his own theological frame of reference. While of course this does not absolve him of any biases, it does help readers to know where the author is coming from and to keep that in mind. In this readers opinion, in Under the Banner of Heaven, Krakauer did his job of giving the facts without having a personal agenda.

2. Educational

Under the Banner of Heaven was very educational. Krakauer doesn’t just focus on the murders of Brenda and Erica Lafferty but actually looks at the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. While I had a basic understanding of Mormonism, Krakauer’s book gave so much more information about their beliefs, rituals, and church hierarchy. And of course, Under the Banner of Heaven includes the darker history of the violence within the Mormon church which I was completely ignorant of.

3. Bibliography

It is apparent that Krakauer did thorough and meticulous research for this novel as the bibliography included in Under the Banner of Heaven is extensive. This provides credence and support to his claims throughout the book.

4. Religion

Throughout Under the Banner of Heaven, Krakauer reminds readers that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not alone with its history of violence but practically every religion is guilty of having followers who use their beliefs to justify harming others. Under the Banner of Heaven was not written specifically to villainize Mormonism but to show the dangers that may occur when individuals turn to fundamentalism and become zealots, Krakauer just uses Mormonism as the example as that is what he was working on at the time. Krakauer brings up solid concerns and questions about the abuse and violence that can be justified in the name of God.

5. Criticism

At the back of the 2004 and onward editions of Under the Banner of Heaven, Krakauer includes an “Appendix” in the Anchor Edition. This includes a “response” to the book by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, authored by the high-ranking church official Richard Turley, as well as Krakauer’s response to this letter. In Krakauer’s response, he gracefully acknowledges mistakes that Turley points out that Krakauer made in the text about the Church but he also rebuttals many things that Turley criticized about Under the Banner of Heaven with sources to support his arguments.

6. Overall

Overall Under the Banner of Heaven was a thoroughly educational novel with an interesting premise. It was well researched and Krakauer included substantial evidence to the facts he presented. In the “Author’s Remarks”, Krakauer includes how he came to write Under the Banner of Heaven. Originally he was working on the interesting phenomenon of a critical, scientific mind coinciding with religious doctrine but his research led him down the road to looking at the Lafferty murders and other violent acts in Mormonism. Again, this was not a personal attack on the Church of Latter-day Saints but rather an intimate look at the dangers of fundamentalism in any religion.


As always, thank you for reading. I would love to hear from you so feel free to contact me or comment below. If you would like to support this blog and/or my paintings please become my patron.

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10 Crucial Things about Dave Cullen’s “Columbine”

Columbine

by Dave Cullen

Nikki’s Rating: 10 out of 10

Summary: Journalist David Cullen looks intensely at the events that occurred April 20, 1999 at Columbine high school when two boys showed up to school with bombs and guns. Based on hundreds of interviews, thousands of pages of police files, and the boys’ own diaries and video recordings, Cullen pieces together how the tragedy unfolded and how Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold came to be cold-blooded killers.

10 Crucial Things about Dave Cullen’s Columbine

(May Contain Spoilers)

1. Correcting Mistakes

One of the biggest tragedies that occurred after the violence of Columbine ended was the neverending misinformation that spread like wildfire through the media. Sadly, many people do not realize that what was publicized during the months after Columbine was far from the truth as the media does not wait for thorough investigations and research. Dave Cullen’s Columbine attempts to correct these mistakes and reveal the astonishing truth of what happened that day, events that led up to it and the aftermath.

2. Research

Dave Cullen is considered the nation’s foremost authority on the Columbine killers and it is because of the meticulous research he has done and it shows in Columbine. Not only has he studied the thousands of pages from police reports and files, he conducted interviews with other people in the community, including friends and family members of Eric and Dylan. Cullen includes an extensive “Bibliography” at the end of Columbine and has links to many of them on his website to further solidify his claims and verify the facts he presents in his book.

3. The Boys

Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were portrayed in the media as outcasts who were part of the “Trench Coat Mafia” and were bullied since they didn’t fit in. The shooting on April 20th, 1999 was viewed as revenge for the boys and that they were specifically targeting jocks and popular kids. The boys actually had a sizable group of friends, were not being bullied but rather there is evidence that they may have been bullies themselves, and they always had multiple social engagements each week. Eric and Dylan were not part of the social group clique known as the Trench Coat Mafia, they simply wore trench coats on the day of the shooting to help conceal their firearms. And lastly, the boys were never targeting specific people, Columbine was not a mass shooting but a failed bombing. Their purpose was to take out as many people as they could before they died, the goal was not revenge but rather a “fuck you” to the world and the system. To put it in perspective, they were meant to carry out their bombing on April 19th, the anniversary of the Waco raid and the Oklahoma bombing. Thankfully, Eric was not competent at making bombs.

4. Psychology

Consulting and interviewing renowned psychologists who have also viewed and studied the boys’ diaries and video tapes, Cullen presents their consensus that Eric Harris was a psychopath. In Columbine, Cullen includes studies and facts about psychology and psychopaths and does an amazing job of showing evidence that Eric Harris fits the profile of a psychopath.

5. Respect

Throughout Columbine, Dave Cullen shows the utmost respect to everyone he mentions. Whether parents’ of the killers or the victims, Cullen is respectful, never placing blame or that their reactions are unwarranted or over the top. Cullen also omitted names when necessary either by his own discretion or being asked to do so by the person. Cullen also reminds readers that only top officials were involved and complacent in the police cover-up surrounding Columbine, maintaining the integrity of the force as a whole.

6. Facts Only

Insinuations and unsupported theories are not seen in Dave Cullen’s Columbine. Even surrounding the interviews done under oath with the Harrises, which will not be made public until 2027, Cullen does not hint at anything he thinks may be revealed. He gives facts and keeps his own biases and judgments out of the book.

7. Healing

Probably one of the most powerful elements that Dave Cullen shares in Columbine is the many ways that the community came together to heal from the tragedy of Columbine. Cullen shares a look of the multiple public dedications and memorials that happened in response but also includes the small things that individual victims were doing for themselves to heal.

8. Afterwards

As healing can take time, Cullen also shares how the victims and/or their families are doing ten years later. It is amazing that the principal that was there during Columbine, stayed in his job and actually reaches out to other principals who have a shooting at their school. Or that some of the victims and their families were able to forgive Eric and Dylan and their families as well, regardless of the pain and suffering they caused. It is really a testament to how strong the human spirit can be, no matter what we go through.

9. Policies

The tragedy of Columbine did cause some changes to policies and laws, although this reader will say that gun laws are still ridiculously lax no matter how many mass shootings our country experiences. Regardless, Cullen brings up some of the changes Columbine caused such as the Zero Tolerance many schools now follow, which seem to not be helpful as it usually involves kids just blowing off steam, which led both the FBI and the Secret Service to publish reports to help faculty identify serious threats. In 2003, “The Active Shooter Protocol” that was released in response to Columbine that now mandates the objective is to take out the shooters at any cost instead of creating a perimeter and waiting for SWAT.

10. Blame

Columbine was written very well especially in regards to Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. While he mentions other killers who were inspired by Harris and Klebold, Dave Cullen did not write the book in a way that glorified the killers. But just as important, Cullen does not crucify Eric and Dylan. He presents facts and shows ways that systems failed to prevent the tragedy, such as the police not investigating complaints and concerns about Eric Harris making pipe bombs and how easy it was for the boys to attain guns, but Cullen doesn’t put the blame on all one person or system. Cullen does a great job of humanizing both Eric and Dylan, reminding readers that while they made their decisions and are therefore responsible for their actions, there are elements that society is responsible for to help prevent these tragedies. 


As always, thank you for reading. I would love to hear from you so feel free to contact me or comment below. If you would like to support this blog and/or my paintings please become my patron.

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10 Kingly Things about David Grann’s “Killers of the Flower Moon”

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI

by David Grann

Nikki’s Rating: 10 out of 10

Summary: Living a life of luxury during the 1920s, the Osage Nation in Oklahoma were the envy of many and this envy took a deadly turn. Members of the Osage tribe began dying under suspicious circumstances and anyone who investigated were murdered as well. With the rising death toll, the newly put together FBI gets involved and exposes a large conspiracy that will haunt the Osage for generations to come.

10 Kingly Things about David Grann’s Killers of the Flower Moon

(May Contain Spoilers)

1. Educational

Killers of the Flower Moon was an absolute eye-opener, I’ve never even heard about the Osage Nation and definitely not about their murders. This novel was a wealth of knowledge about the Osage Indians, the Osage murders, and also the beginnings of the FBI. It is a testament of the atrocities we can do to fellow human beings due to prejudices and believing they are less-than.

2. Osage Indians

David Grann showed the utmost respect when talking about the Osage Tribe and their people throughout Killers of the Flower Moon. Grann gave background and described some practices of the Osage people but he did not attempt to be an expert and he did not make stereotypes. He did not portray them as ignorant savages who need pity nor did he portray them as nature protecting shaman who should be revered.

3. White Power

Ultimately, the Killers of the Flower Moon is a story of how whites took advantage and even killed many members of the Osage Tribe during the 1920s for their money. And they got away with it because of prejudices and discrimination against Native Americans. Many of the whites in the county including judges, policemen, and doctors were complacent, no one cared about the rich Indians and there was an overall attitude that these crimes were okay because they were benefiting white people.

4. Good Whites

On the flip side, David Grann makes sure to show that not all whites in Osage County were involved with the conspiracy. There were some white men who honestly tried to solve the Osage murders and found themselves killed as well. And then there was Comstock, an affluent white citizen of Osage County who openly and willing assisted investigators.

5. New Information

One of the most important things that came out with David Grann’s investigation into the Osage Murders was that there were more killings than just what the FBI investigated and pressed charges for. Through Grann’s research he found that hundreds of Osage Indians had died at a much higher rate than normal and that all of them had money being overseen by whites. Grann uncovered a conspiracy that went farther than what was once believed and the victims will never have justice.

6. Writing

While incredibly heavy with dates, facts, and overall information, Killers of the Flower Moon does not read like a history textbook. Instead Grann does an exceptional job of uncovering the facts, people, and places in a story-telling way and he keeps his readers engaged with great pacing, beautiful descriptives, and a layer by layer reveal of the conspiracy and its key players.

7. Context

Another exceptional writing skill that Grann displays is that of contexts. Grann makes sure to explain customs or norms that were different during that time period. He also includes background on numerous characters allowing readers to better understand their motives, values, and choices. And Grann also includes reminders of who people are in relation to events. This was incredibly helpful and allowed for easy understanding without having to flip back in the book or to look something up.

8. Now

Even though the events of the Osage murders occurred during the 1920s, Grann visited Osage County and interviewed relatives of those who were directly involved. This is so powerful because of generational trauma and the fact that so many of the murders did not get investigated. Grann looks at the repercussions on a people who have been abused and neglected by the government and justice system that was meant to protect them. 

9. Pictures

Throughout Killers of the Flower Moon are pictures. Pictures of people, sometimes places but pictures to help remind you that these are not fictional characters. The tragedies that happened in Osage County during the 1920s were real. Killers of the Flower Moon isn’t a fictional mystery novel and the pictures help provide context but also to drive that fact home.

10. References

There was extensive research done for the Killers of the Flower Moon and Grann has both an “Archival and Unpublished Sources” and “Selected Bibliography” included at the end. It is proof that Grann did his work and provides credibility to all information presented in Killers of the Flower Moon. It is hard to realize that this tragic tale is not fiction but rather a true tale of horror that many people lived through. 


As always, thank you for reading. I would love to hear from you so feel free to contact me or comment below. If you would like to support this blog and/or my paintings please become my patron.

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10 Welcome Things about Philip Gourevitch’s “We Wish to Inform You that Tomorrow we will be Killed with Our Families”

We Wish to Inform You that Tomorrow we will be Killed with Our Families

by Philip Gourevitch

Nikki’s Rating: 10 out of 10

Summary: With devastating clarity, thorough research, and extensive interviews of survivors, Philip Gourevitch investigates the horrors that occurred in Rwanda during 1994. In just three months starting in April 1994, 800,000 Tutsis were killed by the Hutu majority. Unbelievably, it was not simply soldiers or government agents but neighbors, friends, and family members of the Tutsis who participated in the mass genocide. Gourevitch examines not just what led up to the genocide but the aftermath for Rwanda, its people, and the world.

10 Welcome Things about Philip Gourevitch’s We Wish to Inform You that Tomorrow we will be Killed with Our Families

(May Contain Spoilers)

1. Educational

We Wish to Inform You that Tomorrow we will be Killed with Our Families should be required reading in school, this book has so much educational worth! One of the most important educational piece that Gourevitch includes is the role that colonialism and Western interference had that helped pave the path for the Rwanda genocide.

2. Well Researched

Gourevitch meticulously researched other works on Rwanda in order to write this novel. While his sources are not listed in a reference list, he does include the authors of the works he used in his acknowledgments.

3. Personal Interviews

The most powerful and effective aspects of We Wish to Inform You that Tomorrow we will be Killed with Our Families are the personal stories. Speaking with hundreds of Rwandans, Gourevitch weaves their stories throughout this book and it allows the reader to really understand that these atrocities happened to individual people, it is not a tale of fiction but rather the reality for thousands of Rwandans.

4. Failure of the World

In a perfectly summarized sentence Gourevitch states,

“If Rwanda’s experience could be said to carry any lessons for the world, it was that endangered peoples who depend on the international community for physical protection stand defenseless.”

In so many ways, the international community failed epically and Gourevitch shows this time and time again throughout the novel.

5. Consequences

Returning to Rwanda in 1997, Gourevitch looks at how Rwanda has continued on since the genocide. He realizes that the genocide is not just an isolated event but one that will have continued consequences for years to come. And while the rest of the world had moved on, Rwanda had not and even 4 years later ethnic killings continued weekly with no end in sight.

6. Vivid

This novel is so vivid and haunting. Descriptions are plentiful and really capture the scenes Gourevitch is painting. There are moving scenes that will be imprinted in the minds of readers forever.

7. Writing

While reading Gourevitch’s novel, it is apparent that he went to great lengths to give as much information as possible while not losing the reader. He writes in a fluid, engaging manner that allows the reader to know dates, facts, and names without being read like a dry history textbook.

8. Courage

While Philip Gourevitch is one of many reporters who have braved visiting a dangerous area in order to get the facts, it doesn’t make it any less impressive. Gourevitch had the courage to not only do the story but to visit Rwanda multiple times and to travel to different areas in the region regardless of the hazards to himself.

9. Outsider

Regardless of Gourevitch visiting Rwanda, interviewing hundreds of its people, and doing extensive research, Gourevitch humbly acknowledges that he is an outsider. He comprehends that no amount of visitations or education of Rwanda will allow him to understand the country, its politics, or people fully. He could never truly grasp what it means to be Rwandan, he is and will always be an outsider looking in.

10. Powerful

Ultimately, We Wish to Inform You that Tomorrow we will be Killed with Our Families is a powerful novel. It truly paints the picture of what humanity is capable of, the horrors we commit against one another but also the beauty in our resiliency and bravery to survive and help each other in times of adversity. The book ends on a hopeful note of a group of schoolgirls refusing to separate based on being Hutu or Tutsi but rather said they were simply Rwandans.


As always, thank you for reading. I would love to hear from you so feel free to contact me or comment below. If you would like to support this blog and/or my paintings please become my patron.

Be Authentic. Be Unique. Be You.

5 Magnificent Things about Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie’s “My Dear Hamilton”

My Dear Hamilton: A Novel of Eliza Schuyler Hamilton

by Stephanie Dray & Laura Kamoie

Nikki’s Rating: 5 out of 10

Summary: The wife of one of America’s Founding Fathers, Eliza Hamilton suffered greatly due to her husband’s ambition. But she was more than the jilted wife of a public sex-scandal. Eliza, being the daughter of a great revolutionary helped shape and influence America’s independence and the shaping of the Union. This is the tale Eliza’s great love, loss, and legacy.

5 Magnificent Things about Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie’s My Dear Hamilton

(May Contain Spoilers)

1. Educational

Other than knowing that Alexander Hamilton was a Founding Father, I knew nothing else of the man or his life. My Dear Hamilton provides a glimpse into his personal and political life, as well as his many careers.

2. Politics

Another educational piece shown in My Dear Hamilton is that of the political environment of early America. It was interesting to get a feeling of the overall political climate and to see how the Founding Fathers interacted and influenced each other, whether good or bad.

3. Collaboration

My Dear Hamilton was written as a collaboration between Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie, both respectable writers in their own right. Always nice to see authors working together to create a well thought out and researched novel.

4. Female Perspective

While Kamoie and Dray could have easily written this novel through the eyes of Alexander Hamilton, they instead did it from the perspective of his wife, Eliza. This is extremely powerful as women of history have been consistently ignored and excluded from most history books and novels, which is rather ridiculous because as this book shows, women play a huge role throughout history whether up front or behind the scenes.

5. Research

Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie did meticulous research of letters and other original sources to create the basis of My Dear Hamilton and it shows. This novel is full of rich history and is a wonderful example of historical fiction.


As always, thank you for reading. I would love to hear from you so feel free to contact me or comment below. If you would like to support this blog and/or my paintings please become my patron.

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6 Knowledgeable Things about Adam Hochschild’s “King Leopold’s Ghost”

King Leopold’s Ghost

by Adam Hochschild

Nikki’s Rating: 6 out of 10

Summary: A meticulously researched book focused on the exploitation of the Congo by King Leopold. A detailed account of key players and how abuse and slavery were able to continue for years with the world none the wiser. An honest, disturbing look at how colonialism continues to negatively impact the world today.

6 Knowledgeable Things about Adam Hochschild’s King Leopold’s Ghost

(May Contain Spoilers)

1. Educational

This book was a huge eye-opener. Nowhere in any formal education was there mention of the massacre that happened in the Congo, or anywhere else in Africa, due to colonialism. As in everywhere else in history, the victors write the history books and conveniently omit any negative images of themselves.

2. Citing Sources

Hochschild did his research diligently. His pages of notes and bibliography provide ample evidence and support of his narrative of what happened in the Congo under King Leopold’s rule.

3. Characters

In King Leopold’s Ghost, Hochschild does an amazing job of bringing his historical characters to life. He includes key life events to help readers understand their motivations and values that may have impacted their decisions. However, there is a lack of African voices and Hochschild makes note of this and gives valid reasons why this is so.

4. The Atrocities

While not giving traumatizing details, Hochschild clearly paints a picture of the horror many Congolese people experienced at the hands of their European suppressors. From forced slavery in terrible conditions to being used as target practice, King Leopold encouraged a holocaust in the name of greed.

5. Silence

King Leopold’s Ghost includes an explanation of how these atrocities were not made public and how King Leopold was able to manipulate others in power and the media to keep the silence of the massacre that was occurring.

6. Impact

One of the strongest points Hochschild presents in King Leopold’s Ghost is how colonialism continues to have an impact in the Congo today. Due to American and European investments, these governments continue interfering with democracy in the Congo going so far as in 1961, providing the means to assassinate Lumumba, an elected prime minister.


As always, thank you for reading. I would love to hear from you so feel free to contact me or comment below. If you would like to support this blog and/or my paintings please become my patron.

Be Authentic. Be Unique. Be You.