Female Caligula: Ranavalona, the Mad Queen of Madagascar

Keith Laidler, Author . Wiley $24.95 (224p) ISBN 978-0-470-02223-8

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.)

Reviewed on: 10/24/2005
Release date: 08/01/2005
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 224 pages - 978-0-470-02226-9
Ebook - 232 pages - 978-0-470-29641-7
Paperback - 168 pages - 978-1-911405-19-1
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