“Capable of anything except the right”

By the way, I don’t even think Putin was offended when Biden called him a killer by replying “yes” to the interviewer’s question. (But then I don’t think Putin’s feelings are central to this story – Biden’s message is.) In a silly way, this episode reminds me of the book I wrote about in 2016. Russian affairs can drive anyone mad so one needs some comic relief.

That novel is known (to the limited extent it’s known at all) to English readers as The Barsac Mission. It’s probably by Michel Verne, the son of the great Jules Verne, although likely based on the father’s ideas. “An English adaptation by I. O. Evans was published in 1960 in two volumes,” according to Wikipedia.

In the early 20th century, a French exploration party stumbles on a futuristic city in the deserts of West Africa. Built by a visionary French inventor, it is run by an international gang of mostly Anglophone thugs, who keep hostage the city’s creator and viciously exploit residents of surrounding regions captured in slave raids.

This thugopolis is known as Blackland and its dictator, as Harry Killer (no joke, that’s in the original French). True to Verne’s ways, the number of the city’s residents is given as “no less than 6,808,” including 5,778 Africans – essentially slaves – and 1,030 free, white citizens. The whites are a glorious bunch (to quote from Evans’ version):

Though these had come from all parts of the world, most of them had one thing in common; escaped from the hulks or the prison, they were adventurers capable of anything except the right, outcasts ready for the worst jobs…

…[E]very new arrival lost his family name, which was known only to the Chief. Alone among the white inhabitants… that Chief was known in the ordinary way. Even then his name must have been a nickname, at once terrible and sinister. He was called Harry Killer.

Heady stuff. Blackland’s location is actually specified in the novel: 1°40′ E and 15° 50′ N. Somewhere in the Gao region of Mali, in the middle of a desert as advertised.

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