Category Archives: Brazil

Monitor-class Gunboats in WWI

From African Kaiser: General Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck and the Great War in Africa, 1914-1918, by Robert Gaudi (Caliber, 2017), Kindle Loc. 4586-4635:

In 1913, the Brazilian Navy, eager to dominate the upper reaches of the Amazon, had ordered three curious, old-fashioned gunboats from the Scottish shipyards at Barrow-in-Furness. These vessels, called monitors because of their resemblance to the original ironclad warship (that “cheesebox on a raft,” the USS Monitor of the American Civil War), were little more than floating gun platforms. An unusually shallow draft of about six feet allowed the monitors to work close inshore and navigate rivers impassible to deeper-hulled warships. Their heavy armaments—two 6-inch and two 4.7-inch guns—made them formidable opponents. Indeed, these guns were as large as anything carried aboard German battle cruisers like Königsberg.

The monitors, 256 feet long and 1,256 tons unloaded, sported a single prominent funnel and an 80-foot central mainmast. Projected top speed of a painfully slow twelve knots proved much slower in practice. Each carried a minimal coal supply and so could not manage long voyages, which was just as well: Waves crashed over their narrow freeboard at stem and stern; with a direct wind from either port or starboard they wallowed and threatened to swamp—all obvious liabilities for any oceangoing vessel. But for river wars, they were just the thing.

Brazilian Navy officials eagerly awaited delivery of their new warships. They had already been christened Solomos, Madeira, and Javery and were undergoing acceptance trials when war broke out in August 1914. An ocean voyage being impossible under their own steam, the monitors would soon be towed across the Atlantic to the Amazon by oceangoing tugs. Suddenly, the Admiralty stepped in and confiscated the three ungainly vessels; their use was immediately required for Great Britain’s war against Germany and the Central Powers. The Brazilians’ reaction to this seizure must have been utter dismay: They had spent freely on lavish interior fittings and other cosmetic niceties. Indeed, the Brazilian monitors were perhaps the most luxurious naval vessels anywhere in the world.

When British officials came aboard for an inspection tour, they looked around aghast: Behind the monitors’ steel bulkheads, painted a jaunty Coast Guard white, the interiors resembled a posh gentleman’s club—or a high-class bordello: Captain’s cabin and officers’ quarters, ready room and gun room were done up in glossy oak paneling agleam with brass touches. Persian carpets decorated the decks. Blue linen tablecloths flecked with white embroidered anchors, monogrammed china, and chairs with interchangeable seats (wicker for hot weather, velvet for cold) had been specially made for the officers’ mess. Chandeliers hung from the ceilings. The British Navy inspectors allowed themselves a moment of envious awe, then took to the interior with crowbars and sledgehammers. The monitors’ gleaming white hulls—calculated to dazzle any Amazonian Indian approaching in a canoe—were immediately covered in wartime gray; any remaining brass fittings ended up a tarry black. All the luxurious accoutrements—carpets, tablecloths, interchangeable chairs—ripped out and discarded, ended up in a heap on the docks. Renamed Humber, Severn, and Mersey, the squat little ships were made ready for war.

Now dubbed the “Inshore Flotilla and Squadron,” they engaged in early action along the Belgian coast in 1914 and 1915 and played an appreciable part in the “Race to the Sea” campaign of the first weeks of the war: As trenches were dug in a frantic burst all the way across Flanders to the English Channel, the monitors lying just offshore supported the action on land with their big guns. Coming under fire from German field artillery, they sustained damage and casualties, but played their role well. Churchill credited them with preventing the fall of Calais, Dunkirk, and Boulogne and saving what was left of the Belgian Army….

Flotilla officers, an odd mix of merchant marine and naval reservists, suited their curious ships. Most, getting on in years, had already pursued a variety of nonmilitary careers—including the stage and the teaching of German to high school students —before being recalled to service in August. Captain E. J. A. Fullerton, first of Mersey, then Severn, the flotilla’s commander, had been a gym instructor at the Royal Naval College, Osborne, and had served aboard King Edward VII’s yacht, HMY Victoria and Albert, in the last days of the Belle Epoque. When promoted to captain in January 1915, he provided a pint of beer to every sailor in the flotilla for a toast to his health.

Following action in Belgian waters, the Admiralty ordered the monitors to the Dardanelles to take part in the ill-fated Gallipoli Campaign. There, along with several of the most obsolete vessels in the British Navy, they were to help force the straits—the goal of the campaign being the capture of Constantinople from the Turks by naval action alone. Made as seaworthy as possible, with topmast stowed and hatches battened, the monitors wallowed down the European coasts and through the Straits of Gibraltar in heavy seas, towed by their tugs at the punishingly slow speed of six knots. They arrived at Malta in March, next stop Turkey. All officers and men of the Inshore Flotilla and Squadron had been sent ahead as passengers aboard the HMS Trent.

But by this time, the Turks under the famous Mustapha Kemal—later Ataturk—with German help had sunk three British battleships off the Dardanelles and disabled three more. British Admiral John de Robeck, in charge of naval operations, abruptly called off his battered fleet, in favor of an amphibious invasion force. Now, suddenly, the monitors had become redundant. They languished in the fortified harbor at Valetta for weeks—until Admiral King-Hall, from his watch on the far-off Rufiji Station, got wind of their presence in the Mediterranean. These clumsy, powerfully armed, shallow-draft vessels might have been made expressly for his ongoing battle against Königsberg.

After some wrangling with the Admiralty, King-Hall secured the use of Mersey and Severn and their officers and crews, though not Humber. The pair of monitors, again fixed to their oceangoing tugs via steel cables, began another long journey—this time 5,000 miles across the Mediterranean, through the Suez Canal, down the Red Sea to the Indian Ocean, and to the clotted, crocodile-infested channels of the Rufiji Delta.

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Okinawans Before the Battle, 1945

From Tennozan: The Battle of Okinawa and the Atomic Bomb, by George Feifer (Ticknor & Fields, 1992), pp. 63-64, 74-75:

Okinawa’s problems included an internal caste system and vigorous snobbery. As most Japanese looked down at most Okinawans, rich Okinawans, especially from the cities, tended to look down at farming villagers, who did the same to inhabitants of the smaller Ryukyu islands. More painfully, there was overcrowding. The island’s southern third, where by far the hardest fighting would take place, was over four times more densely populated than Rhode Island. This would contribute to the coming battle’s extraordinary toll in civilian deaths, as it had contributed to centuries of poverty. “When you come to Okinawa,” a folk song advised, “please wear straw shoes” – for the coral was as hard on bare feet as it was to cultivation. The majority of the population eked out their existence on thin, harsh soil. Nature took away almost as much as it gave. The chronicle of natural disasters, especially crop-ruining, house-flattening typhoons, reads like the drum rolls of a dirge to a little people also regularly decimated by drought, plague and famine. “The whole fragile, minuscule structure survived throughout the centuries at bare subsistence level,” a Western historian summarized. No threat to anyone, the patch of meager land would never be a prize, except for its strategic position in other nations’ plans.

Poverty remained widespread in 1944. It was rooted in subtropical lassitude, agricultural backwardness and the typhoons that regularly ravaged housing and crops. The 1940 population, about 475,000 before the battle in 1945, owned 250 motor vehicles, one to every two thousand persons. A quarter were busses. In “poor” Japan, which felt compelled to seize other people’s land, the average farmer farmed five tan, about one and a quarter acres. It was two tan on Okinawa, and per capita income was about half the mainland average.

Farmers usually went without shoes. They planted their tiny fields chiefly with sugar cane, most of the crop now going to the mainland’s war-economy alcohol, and with sweet potatoes. The blessed sweet potato, which had arrived on a seventeenth-century ship returning from delivering tribute to the Chinese court, remained the mainstay of the “poor man’s” diet. A naval research unit that would analyze soil samples after the American landing first discovered that “Okinawa’s earth was made of sweet potatoes – everywhere we dug.” Next, it found the fields were “generously fertilized with nightsoil – a rich source … of typhoid and paratyphoid bacilli, which a month later [in May 1945, when the fighting was most severe] produced a mild outbreak among our troops.”

Despite great hunger for farmland, much of the island remained untilled. The mountain soil was too thin, large tracts wre covered with sand and thousands of coral escarpments had no covering at all – thus an even more intense cultivation of the arable land. Although private ownership had replaced an ancient system of common ownership, a long history of village responsibility for the common welfare bound the little hamlets, also tightly linked by family ties, in a deep sense of cooperation and community obligation.

Bean soup, a few garden vegetables and very occasional pork and fish provided relief from the sweet potatoes. Rice was a luxury for many farmers. They considered rain good weather, since water was scarce despite heavy annual rainfall, most of which ran off the coral. But there was much laughter and song. There was an easygoing attitude toward one’s time on earth, far easier than in intense, driven mainland Japan.

Perhaps the most salient contrast with the Japanese was in the attitude toward life and death. Okinawans revered their ancestors but not as warriors. The most noticeable man-made feature of the landscape was the great number of tombs. The earliest had been in caves that honeycombed the island. Later, when aboveground structures were constructed, most families spent as much money and effort as possible on the dwelling place for all eternal spirits. One of the two most prominent designs was shaped like a little house, often built into a hill unsuited for cultivation. The other, probably imported later from China, looked like a turtle’s back, the turtle being a symbol of long life – or, as many had it, a vagina opening into a womb, the idea being that all return to their source after their earthly passage. The Okinawan versions had a oddly gentle beauty. A visiting artist was surprised by the “extraordinary fine shape” of even the poor farmers’ efforts.

The family tomb was the site for picnics and holidays. Three years after death, the bones of the decomposed body were washed, then placed in a beautifully colorful ceramic urn inside the tomb for thirty-three years, when a memorial service was held and the now floating spirits were venerated – but with no glorification of death, let alone hunger to serve or sacrifice for a nationalist cause….

Stunning Japanese victories from 1931 to 1941 did convince many Okinawans that Japan, not Okinawa, was indeed divine and destined to rule the world. Until then, then had long been skeptical of nationalist ambitions and military methods, and had felt much good will toward the United States in particular. Many of the sixty thousand Ryukyuans who emigrated by 1930 were in Argentina, the Japanese mainland and Brazil … But many went to Hawaii and California. The savings sent back from their chiefly laboring wages there represented riches to their families.

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Columbus as Portuguese Wannabe

From Seven Myths of the Spanish Conquest, by Matthew Restall (Oxford, 2004), Kindle Loc. 348-399:

Columbus had profound Portuguese connections. Although he was Genoese and the sponsor of his voyages across the Atlantic was Queen Isabella of Castile, Columbus spent much of his life from the 1470s on in Portugal. In the late 1470s he married the daughter of a Portuguese Atlantic colonist, and he repeatedly sought royal Portuguese patronage before and after first approaching the Castilian monarch….

This context is so important because it is by looking at Portugal before and during Columbus’s years there that one can see the degree to which the transplanted Genoese navigator had neither a a unique plan nor a unique vision nor a unique pattern of previous experience. Many others created and contributed to the expansion process of which Columbus became a part. Beginning 200 years before Columbus crossed the Atlantic, southern European shipping broke out of the Mediterranean into the Atlantic. The Vivaldi brothers, most notably, set off from Genoa in 1291 on what turned out to be a one-way voyage west across the Atlantic. Then, in the fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries a new zone of navigation was created that was bordered by the Azores in the north, the Canary Islands in the south, and the Iberian-African coasts in the east.

Finally, from the 1420s on, a further stretch of exploration and navigation into the mid- and west Atlantic was created and charted. In the 1450s and 1460s, Flores, Corvo, the Cape Verde Islands, and the islands of the Gulf of Guinea were explored. The Madeiras and Canaries were settled and turned into sugar-plantation colonies and by 1478 the former was the largest sugar producer in the Western world. Maps of the time show how important and extensive was the discovery of Atlantic space; speculation about the lands and features of the ocean was the most noteworthy feature of fifteenth-century cartography.

Although men from Italian city-states were involved from the start, and Castilians increasingly participated in the process (especially, from the late-fourteenth century on, in hostile competition for control of the Canaries), it was Portugal that dominated this expansion. Italian navigators were systematically and most effectively co-opted by the Portuguese monarchy (later joined by the Flemish), permitting the new Portuguese empire to control Atlantic settlement (except for the Canaries) and the agenda of expansion….

Columbus tried to become part of this process with growing desperation in the 1480s and 1490s. He failed for so long because he lacked the connections and persuasive ideas of other navigators. Even after he succeeded in crossing the Atlantic and returning, the extent of his success was questioned and questionable within the context of the time. The islands he had found (in the Caribbean) fell within the zone assigned to the Portuguese by the 1486 papal bull. And although in 1494 the papacy brokered a Portuguese-Castilian treaty that redefined these zones, it became increasingly apparent during the 1490s that Columbus had not found the much-sought sea route to the East Indies—but had been lying about it to Queen Isabella. Then, in 1499, Vasco da Gama returned from his successful voyage around the Cape and it became clear that the Portuguese had won the competition after all.

Columbus’s career was irreversibly damaged. His claim to have found islands off the coast of Asia, and thus the coveted sea route to that continent, rang hollow in the face of mounting evidence that these were new lands entirely. Columbus seemed to be lying for the sake of his contractual rewards. Perceiving the extent of his failure and his duplicity, the Castilian crown dispatched an agent to the Caribbean to arrest Columbus and bring him back to Spain in chains. Although he was later permitted to cross the Atlantic, he was forbidden to revisit the Caribbean and was stripped of the titles of Admiral and Viceroy of the Indies—titles he had fought to be included in his original contract and arguably the chief goal of his career. Meanwhile, those titles were conferred by the Portuguese crown upon da Gama.

The fact that it was Columbus’s voyages, not da Gama’s, that would lead to the changing of world history was not to the Genoese’s credit. His discoveries were an accidental geographical byproduct of Portuguese expansion two centuries old, of Portuguese-Castilian competition for Atlantic control a century old, and of Portuguese-Castilian competition for a sea route to India older than Columbus himself. Furthermore, had Columbus not reached the Americas, any one of numerous other navigators would have done so within a decade. Most obviously, the Portuguese Pedro Álvares Cabral explored the Brazilian coast in 1500, likewise arriving there in an attempt to reach Asia (by rounding the Cape).

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Common People’s Christianity in Gunma, 1880s

From: American Missionaries, Christian Oyatoi, and Japan 1859–73, by Hamish Ion (UBC Press, 2009), pp. 269-271:

Although many missionaries, unlike their Japanese colleagues, came from rural farming backgrounds (and thus possibly had a better appreciation of the importance of farming to national strength), they were restricted to the treaty ports. Unless missionaries were employed at Japanese schools or obtained leave to go into the interior for health reasons, they were not free to leave the treaty ports. Thus, the rural evangelistic effort had by necessity, to be largely conducted by Japanese evangelists. By 1884 thirteen churches had been established in the Kantō prefectures.” Kudō Eiichi has pointed out that the ten years from 1877 to 1887 saw a tremendous growth in the Protestant movement, much of which came from the creation of new churches in rural areas.” This growth owed a lot to the activities of students who had studied in Tokyo or Yokohama, where they had contact with Christians returning to their hometowns and villages in the provinces Back-up to the activities of returned Christians came from members of the new city churches in Tokyo, Yokohama, Osaka, and Kobe, joined shortly afterward by students from the Nihon Kirisuto Ichi Kyōkai Shingakkō in Tsukiji and the Dōshisha school in Kyoto.

As Christian activities in Annaka and Maebashi reveal, one of the first areas to be opened up was Gunma Prefecture, an agricultural area to the west of Tokyo with strong ties to the silk-exporting trade through Yokohama. The opportunities for rural economic development as a result of the silk trade helped to open this area to Western machinery and Western ideas. It was in Kiryū that evangelists belonging to the Shin Sakae Kyōkai were able to establish their first church among the rural folk in this important region. In its early years, the Kiryū Kyōkai lacked both a permanent worship place and a resident minister. It grew nevertheless because of the energy of visiting evangelists and its own members. In sharp contrast to many of the first converts in Yokohama and Tokyo, who were shizoku (descendants of samurai), the Kiryū Christians belonged to merchant and farming families. Indeed, the first shizoku member of the church, Ishii Yasaemon, became a member in August 1883 and was the 117th person to be baptized in that church. In microcosm, the challenges that the Kiryū Kyōkai faced help to explain how a Christian community was able to take root in a country area and shed more light on what church activity entailed for country Christians. Sumiya has pointed out that Gunma Christians were different from their counterparts in other places where shizoku had made up the majority of converts because Gunma Christianity was the common people’s Christianity (heimin no kirisutokyo). This was certainly true in the case of the Kiryū Kyōkai….

Between 1878 and 1888, twelve churches were established in the prefecture, with a total membership of 1,466. Among them was the independent church Nishi Gunma Kyōkai, Takazaki Kyōkai, established in May 1884 by Hoshino Mitsuta. The evangelistic power and vitality of the young Dōshisha graduates who formed the vanguard of the Kumiai Kyōkai’s endeavour in Gunma is reflected in the ownership of these twelve churches: nine belonged to the Kumiai Kyōkai, and only one each to the Nihon Kirisuto Ichi Kyōkai, the Baptists, and the Methodists. The majority of the churches were on the main road leading west across Honshu toward Niigata, as was the case in Kiryū, Maebashi, Takasaki, Annaka, and Harashi. Some of these also were on the route of the railway – Isesaki, for instance. Ōhama has pointed out that Gunma Prefecture had 985 Christians in its churches in 1888 and ranked fifth in terms of numbers of Christians living in Japanese prefectures or major cities, and, at 14.75, fourth overall in terms of Christians per thousand of population.

This adds new perspective to our visit to international Ota City in Gunma, which is now home to Japan’s largest Braziltown and has the highest proportion of foreign workers of any prefecture in Japan.

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Baciu’s Early Exile Network

From Mira, by Ştefan Baciu (Honolulu: Editura Mele, 1979 [also Bucuresti: Editura Albatros, 1998], p. iii (my translation):

I dedicate this “Double Autobiography” to our Brazilian friends, departed but always present:

and to those in Hispanic America, just as present:

and to the memory of our friends:

    Grigore Cugler/“Apunake” (d. in Lima)
    Mircea Popescu (d. in Rome)
    Horia Tănăsescu (d. in San Francisco)
    Ion Oană-Potecaşu (d. in São Paulo)
    N. I. Herescu (d. in Zurich)
    Alexandru Busuioceanu (d. in Madrid)
    Aron Cotruş (d. in California)

It is perhaps not too surprising that the Romanian exiles are not well represented in Wikipedia. Baciu himself has a longer biography in Spanish Wikipedia than in either Romanian or English. Exiles tend to fall between the cracks. Who feels responsible for documenting their lives, people in their countries of exile or the ones they left behind? In the case of literary exiles, it depends who reads their work. I believe that Baciu devoted half of his own separate volume of memoirs (Praful de pe toba) to sketches of his old mentors and colleagues precisely in order to ensure that they would not be entirely forgotten.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who just passed away, spent time in both domestic internal and foreign exile. The English translations of his early classics like One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, The First Circle, Cancer Ward, and August 1914 had a major influence on my understanding of what the Soviet system was all about, an understanding that was reinforced and enriched by my year in Romania in 1983-84. (I did not read The Gulag Archipelago, but have blogged passages of several books about Gulags more recently.) Solzhenitsyn is not regarded quite the same way in his country of exile as in his country of origin, and his obsessions also evolved differently at home and abroad. He lived more than two lives, perhaps even as many as nine.

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The Amazon’s Cinta Larga in 1914

ALTHOUGH ROOSEVELT and Rondon did not realize it, the Cinta Larga‘s strong independence was probably keeping the men of the expedition alive. Because the Indians did not have a traditional chief, they were forced to make all of their decisions by consensus. If it was time to move the village, for instance, they had to agree on the time and location of the move. When it came to dealing with the expedition, the Cinta Larga were divided. Some of them believed that they should remain invisible to the outsider. Others, however, argued that they should attack. These men had invaded their territory, and there was no reason to believe they did not mean the Indians harm. By attacking first, the Cinta Larga would have the upper hand. They would also be able to loot the expedition, which was carrying valuable provisions and tools—especially those made of metal.

War was not a rare event for the Cinta Larga. The most common cause was the death of one of their own, from an earlier attack or even from natural causes. The Cinta Larga believed that death was brought about by witchcraft. If a man became ill and died, the others in his village never blamed their healer, a man who used plants and religion to cure the sick. Instead, they looked around their own village, and if they did not find anyone suspicious, they assumed that someone from another village must have performed the dark magic. The only response was to avenge the death by attacking the offending village.

The Cinta Larga also occasionally went to war if the population of their own village had become so depleted by disease, murder, or both that they needed to steal women and children. Such attacks took place at night. The men would camp near their victims’ village, and then, after the sun had set, they would slip inside their communal hut. As the male members of the other village slept in their hammocks, the warriors would club them to death before rounding up as many women and children as they could find….

THE MOST striking fact about the Cinta Larga—and one that would have alarmed the men of the expedition had they known it—was that these Indians were cannibals. Unlike the type of cannibalism much of the world had come to know—among desperate explorers, marooned sailors, and victims of famine—the Cinta Larga’s consumption of human flesh was born not out of necessity but out of vengeance and an adherence to tribal traditions and ceremony. The tribe had very strict rules for cannibalism. They could eat another man only in celebration of a war victory, and that celebration had to take place in the early evening. The man who had done the killing could not grill the meat or distribute it, and children and adults with small children would not eat it. If they did, the Cinta Larga believed, they would go mad.

The most important rule of cannibalism within the tribe was that one Cinta Larga could not eat another. The tribe drew a clear distinction between its own members and the rest of mankind, which they considered to be “other”—and, thus, edible. An enemy killed during war, therefore, was ritually dismembered and eaten. While still on the battlefield, either in the enemy’s village or in the forest, the Cinta Larga would carve up the body just as they would a monkey that they had shot down from the canopy. First they would cut off and discard the man’s head and heart. Then they would section off the edible portions: the arms, legs, and a round of flesh over the stomach. They grilled this meat over an open fire and brought it home to their village for their wives to slice and cook with water in a ceramic pan.

SOURCE: The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey, by Candice Millard (Doubleday, 2005), pp. 228-231

Last year’s PBS Frontline/World feature entitled Jewel of the Amazon also features the Cinta Larga.

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The Model T’s Effect on the Amazon

Seringueiros [rubber tappers] were, by default, the true settlers of Brazil’s interior. When Henry Ford had introduced the Model T in 1908, the Amazon had been the world’s sole source of rubber. The wild popularity of these automobiles, and the seemingly insatiable demand for rubber that accompanied them, had ignited a frenzy in South America that rivaled the California gold rush. In The Sea and the Jungle, H. M. Tomlinson complained that the only thing Brazilians saw in their rich rain forests in 1910 was rubber. “It is blasphemous that in such a potentially opulent land the juice of one of its wild trees should be dwelt upon … as though it were the sole act of Providence,” he wrote. “The passengers on the river boats are rubber men, and the cargoes are rubber. All the talk is of rubber.” Two years before Roosevelt had set sail for South America, his friend the great American naturalist John Muir had been similarly astonished by the rubber lust that he had witnessed as he traveled through the Amazon. “Into this rubbery wilderness thousands of men, young and old, rush for fortunes,” he marveled, “half crazy, half merry, daring fevers, debilitating heat, and dangers of every sort.”

By the time Roosevelt reached the Amazon, the dangers were still there but the promise of riches had all but disappeared. The bottom had dropped out of the South American rubber boom in 1912, when the Amazon lost its lock on the market. Thirty-six years earlier, an Englishman named Henry Wickham had smuggled Hevea brasiliensis seeds, the most popular species of Amazonian rubber tree, out of Brazil. Those seeds had then been cultivated at Kew Gardens, and the British had eventually planted their predecessors in tropical Malaysia. There, far from their natural enemies, the trees could be planted in neat rows with no fear that a blight would destroy the entire crop, as it likely would have done in South America. Labor in Malaysia was also not only cheap but readily available, and much more easily controlled. So successful had been the transfer of rubber trees to the Far East that by 1913 Malaya and Ceylon were producing as much rubber as the Amazon.

SOURCE: The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey, by Candice Millard (Doubleday, 2005), pp. 317-318

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