Blood River by Tim Butcher
on September 15th 2009
Genres: History, Africa, Central
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A gripping, harrowing, fascinating and informative account of one man’s solo trek through one of the most dangerous routes in the world at the moment.
Tim Butcher writes extremely well: clearly, concisely, logically, yet very personally. He’s not afraid to reveal his own shortcomings and frailties, even his downright fear. And why shouldn’t he? You won’t find any tourist agencies recommending this trip along the Congo River in the footsteps of Stanley. But the way he shares his experiences makes you feel you are there with him, so who needs tourist agencies anyway?
Here’s an example of the dilemmas he finds himself in. It’s the small town of Kisangani, and he is marooned without transport. The days drag by into weeks. He describes “the nadir to my despondency” when a tanker arrives, but the captain refuses Butcher a lift. He asks, he pleads, he begs, without success. He tries to contact the owners, he spends a fortune in telephone calls, but he fails. Eventually one morning he watches the tanker unmoor and sail downstream. “I was left staring at a bare muddy riverbank, feeling lower than ever.” It’s just one of a number of harrowing experiences that you share with the author.
What I also appreciated about this book is how he puts his trip into context, not only with Stanley but with the whole colonization of the Congo by Leopold, Kind of the Belgians. For more on this topic, read my review of Adam Hochschild’s King Leopold’s Ghost.