This review first appeared on the Historical Novel Society’s website.
Empires in the Sun: The Struggle for the Mastery of Africa
Starting with the shelling of Algiers by a French battle fleet in 1830, Lawrence James paints a deep and nuanced picture of the relationship between Europe and Africa. The book is split into four parts: 1830-1881 covers the Arab legacy and the early colonial period; 1882-1918, the height of the European colonization; then 1919-1945, and the growing national movements; and finally, 1945-1990 and the end of the European colonies. The last piece of the puzzle, the birth of Mandela’s South Africa, took place in 1993.
I was born a colonial and grew up in Africa, and the continent has always drawn me. I found this book revelatory in its treatment of the early history: it fleshed out wonderfully what was taught in school in Kenya, and painted a vivid picture of events and people. I was equally impressed by the last section, the last 30 years or so of which I lived through; it was fascinating to see a multifaceted view of events. If you’re interested in the history of Africa, you’ll love this book.