Author(s): Keith Laidler
Ranavalona-Manjaka, Queen of Madagascar is known to her subjects more simply as Ma Dieu. Under Ranavalona's despotic rule, hundreds of thousands of people, possibly one-half of Madagascar's entire population, were murdered, starved or simply worked to death by her express command, while she enjoyed an eccentric and debauched lifestyle.
.,."jaw-dropping..." ("Conde Nast Traveller," November 2005)
.,."a new book reveals the extraordinary excesses of the woman whose enemies met the most unspeakable fates..." ("Daily Express," 7th November 2005)
Laidler, an anthropologist, filmmaker and author ("The Last Empress"), uncovers the fascinating story of the early 19th-century queen of Madagascar, Ranavalona, who seized power after her husband's death and ruled ruthlessly but effectively for 33 years. Unfortunately, much of it reads like a European's shocked appraisal of native culture rather than the analysis of an anthropologist. The author seems trapped by his title--derived from a European commentator--and, obliged to prove his subject unusually bloodthirsty, he emphasizes the queen's oppression of Christians and trials by ordeal rather than fleshing out the tantalizing glimpses of native religions, social structures and matrilineal royal descent that kept her in power. His most sympathetic characters are a few extraordinary Europeans who lived in or visited Madagascar during her reign. Laidler briefly asserts that Ranavalona actually descended into insanity, but nowhere does he seriously address the issue or give evidence beyond the violence of her tenure. In fact, the narrative suggests that her plans were effective rather than mad: after her death, a series of somewhat less violent and more open-minded rulers gave way under foreign imperial pressures and Madagascar became a French colony. B&w illus., map. "(Dec.)" ("Publishers Weekly," October 24, 2005)