TO Paris, French Guiana has always been a very special colony. Other outposts provided lucrative markets and natural resources, but Guiana depended on France for nearly every necessity—right down to clothes, cheese and Calvados. Yet, in a grisly way, the Indiana-sized enclave more than paid its keep. Brutally humid, far from France and isolated by shark-infested waters and impenetrable jungle, Guiana was the dread, virtually escape-proof exile to which France's worst criminals were shipped. The most famous, of course, was Alfred Dreyfus, the Jewish army captain who was cashiered on a trumped-up treason charge. Beginning in 1895, Dreyfus spent four years,...

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