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Blood River: A Journey to Africa's Broken Heart (2007)

Tekijä: Tim Butcher

JäseniäKirja-arvostelujaSuosituimmuussijaKeskimääräinen arvioMaininnat
9484022,174 (3.94)62
When Daily Telegraph correspondent Tim Butcher was sent to cover Africa in 2000 he quickly became obsessed with the idea of recreating H M Stanley's famous expedition - but travelling alone. Despite warnings that his plan was 'suicidal', Butcher set out for the Congo's eastern border with just a rucksack and a few thousand dollars hidden in his boots. Making his way in an assortment of vessels including a motorbike and a dugout canoe, helped along by a cast of characters from UN aid workers to a campaigning pygmy, he followed in the footsteps of the great Victorian adventurers. Butcher's journey was a remarkable feat, but the story of the Congo, told expertly and vividly in this book, is more remarkable still.… (lisätietoja)
  1. 30
    Chasing the Devil: On Foot Through Africa's Killing Fields (tekijä: Tim Butcher) (ominogue)
  2. 10
    When a Crocodile Eats the Sun (tekijä: Peter Godwin) (bergs47)
  3. 00
    Myrkkypuun siemen (tekijä: Barbara Kingsolver) (CatherineRM)
    CatherineRM: I love both these books and they nicely juxtapose each other with their Congo total immersion albeit one fictional and one factual. Tim Butcher traces the Congo River from its source through the dense equatorial land that the protagonist of the Kingsolver book occupied with his suffering family. Both books made a lasting impression on me and I have great time for Africa as I lived in Tanzania - close to Congo geographically for most of the time - and it has a big place in my heart. Read both books and be enriched!… (lisätietoja)
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This book is best for the understanding it gives you of the situation in Africa at it’s worst. October 2011 ( )
  BBrookes | Dec 2, 2023 |
I have always wanted to travel down the Congo River, from deep in the Congo to the Atlantic coast. But never dared doing so, through a country completely bankrupt and lawless. Tim Butcher did, in 2004, and wrote a fascinating book about it, “Blood River” (2006). Maybe he really wanted to travel the route the explorer Henry Morton Stanley took, in 1877, when he became the first Westerner to travel from the east to the west coast of the continent, and especially, discovered the Congo River, hitherto unknown to Western map makers. Or maybe he wanted to see where his mother travelled in colonial luxury in the 1950. But I think he just had the same obsession as I had, go down that river.
He quickly establishes that his is not adventure travel, no, he calls it ordeal travel. Every part is a major challenge, firstly organising transport in a country where there is none, and then actually moving from one to the next place. The first part is a gruelling couple of days on the back of a motor bike, but he also travels by UN patrol boat, by canoe, by another UN chartered barge. None of the travel is fun, but at least on the road, or the river, he feels slightly safer than in the towns. What he encounters on the way is a country totally lawless, ruled by local strongmen and gangs, vaguely linked to political entities but mostly after their own, immediate and uncontrolled interest, in the process terrorising everybody else. And what he describes is a country going backwards, from a relatively well developed infrastructure under Belgian colonial rule to a place not unlike the one encountered by Stanley: the roads have disappeared again, have been reduced to narrow tracks; the only remnant of the railway is an overgrown sleeper; rusty metal hulls are all that is left of ships that used to sail up and down the river frequently. In the jungle there is nothing that reminds one of what we would consider normal life. One of his most poignant observations is that the older generations have, in fact, been exposed to more modernity that the younger ones – the inverse of what is considered normal in the rest of the world.
Throughout his journey Mr Butcher lives in constant fear. And you wonder what for, in the end. You know, apart from the occasional character he finds – a Belgian priest who arrived in the 1940s, or a British spinster, who has spent her entire life in the Congo, or some extremely helpful aid workers, both expatriate and local – apart from those people, there is really nothing to see, apart from green jungle and muddy river, and the occasional dilapidated town. That he manages to reach the Atlantic coast, alive and in less than two months, is a major achievement, for which I have the utmost respect, never mind that during reading the book I often referred to Mr Butcher as the lunatic. The other thing he achieved is that I don’t need to make that trip anymore, myself. ( )
  theonearmedcrab | Nov 5, 2022 |
In 2004, British journalist Tim Butcher took his life in his hands and traveled the interior of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). He followed the approximate path of Henry Morton Stanley, the explorer that found David Livingstone in 1871 and went back in 1874 to map the Congo River. Between descriptions of his journey, Butcher tells the history of the country, including Stanley’s expedition, colonial rule by the Belgians, post-colonial political upheaval, and uprisings that have brought regular bouts of violence to the region.

He was also inspired by his mother, who, in 1958, crossed the Congo by train. That train and its infrastructure have since been reclaimed by the jungle. Butcher explains how a country so rich in natural resources –diamonds, cobalt, copper, oil, palm products, rubber – can remain underdeveloped and the bulk of its people living in deprivation. This country is one of the few that had gone backwards from fifty years before, primarily due to corruption, exploitation, lack of leadership, and lawlessness.

It is a description of an amazing 44-day journey through close to 3000 kilometers of jungle on foot, motorbike, pirogue, and riverboat, not knowing exactly where he would stay the night and relying on a network of contacts he had made before the trip. He connects with United Nations employees, humanitarian workers, and missionaries. He sees and describes how the people live, both in the bush and the decaying cities. He dodges militia carrying AK47s, survives on cassava, and suffers disease. He also meets caring Congolese that offer hospitality despite possessing few resources.

Tim Butcher writes in a direct style and does not shy away from expressing his opinions. This book is so much more than a travelogue. It provides an informative history of the DRC, while documenting an extremely challenging journey, offering perspective on the immense issues facing the country, and providing thoughts on the outlook for the Congolese people. It is eye-opening and inspired me to look up the recent history of the DRC to find out what has happened since 2007, when this book was published.
( )
  Castlelass | Oct 30, 2022 |
An interesting read. What an extraordinary journey to have made. ( )
  JevKim | Apr 22, 2022 |
A very interesting travel story. Butcher weaves the history of the Congo with his own trip to and along the river. The main weakness is that he does not have enough interactions with people along the way. He explains this himself:

> Venturing out of the shade, I faced the same dilemma that I encountered in every place I visited in the Congo. I wanted to nose around, ask questions and take photographs, but I did not want to catch the attention of the local authorities with all the attendant hassle of having to explain who I was, pay bribes and beg not to be arrested as a spy. Also, I was feeling so enervated that I was happy to skulk into the same hut where the crew were restoking and simply avoid the midday heat.

Even still, I found the book useful. While I had heard the history before, the travel grounded it for me. And it is quite a surprise to have a trip like this in the 21st century.

Some quotes:

> Several of the walkers had large African snails stuck to the side of their leaf bundles. The snails did not have to be tied on, as their gooey, muscular foot kept them firmly attached until the moment when they were taken off and cooked. The only other food we saw was cassava paste tied in small rectangular leaf packets.

> 'I think the last time I saw a vehicle near here was 1985, but I cannot be sure. All these children you see around you now are staring because I have told them about cars and motorbikes that I saw as a child, but they have never seen one before you arrived.' He carried on talking, but I was still computing what he had just said. The normal laws of development are inverted here in the Congo. The forest, not the town, offers the safest sanctuary and it is grandfathers who have been more exposed to modernity than their grandchildren.

> By 1949 the colonial authorities boasted 111,971 kilometres of road across the Congo. By 2004 I doubt if there were more than 1,000 kilometres left in the entire country.

> My mother told me of large pods of hippos she saw from her river boat in 1958, sending up jets of water as they shifted their bulk out of the way of the boat. But the Congo's collapse has led to nearly all river life being shot out by starving riverside villagers desperate for protein. Our crocodile sighting was a rare treat.

> while Swahili had just one word for forest, the tribal language of Maniema had four special words - Mohuru, Mwitu, Mtambani and Msitu - for jungle of increasing impenetrability.

> This region is one of the rare places in the world that fails what I called the Coca-Cola test. The test is simple: can you buy a Coke?

> Just as campaigners today use the term Blood Diamonds to discredit gems produced in Africa's war zones, so their predecessors from a hundred years ago spoke of Red Rubber, publishing dramatic accounts of villagers being murdered or having their hands cut off to terrify their neighbours into harvesting more rubber. … Among the earliest campaigners was George Washington Williams, a pioneering African American who travelled by boat as far as the Stanley Falls in 1890 and did something nobody had ever thought to do before; he recorded the testimony of the Congolese themselves. His writings contained eye-witness accounts of the first genocide of the modern era, inspiring him to coin a term that is now used widely, 'crimes against humanity'.

> While maintaining the illusion of handing over a single country to the black Congolese, the authorities in Brussels secretly backed the secession of Katanga from the Congo, financing, arming and protecting the pro-Belgian Katangan leader, Moise Tshombe, in return for a promise that the Belgian mining interests in Katanga would be protected. It was one of the most blatant acts of foreign manipulation in Africa's chaotic independence period, and it culminated in one of the cruellest acts of twentieth-century political assassination, when Patrice Lumumba, the first Congolese national figure to win an election, was handed over by Belgian stooges to be murdered by Tshombe's regime. Lumumba's mistake was to hint at pro-Soviet sympathies. ( )
  breic | Jul 29, 2019 |
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When Daily Telegraph correspondent Tim Butcher was sent to cover Africa in 2000 he quickly became obsessed with the idea of recreating H M Stanley's famous expedition - but travelling alone. Despite warnings that his plan was 'suicidal', Butcher set out for the Congo's eastern border with just a rucksack and a few thousand dollars hidden in his boots. Making his way in an assortment of vessels including a motorbike and a dugout canoe, helped along by a cast of characters from UN aid workers to a campaigning pygmy, he followed in the footsteps of the great Victorian adventurers. Butcher's journey was a remarkable feat, but the story of the Congo, told expertly and vividly in this book, is more remarkable still.

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