Blood River: The Terrifying Journey Through The World's Most Dangerous Country

Blood River: The Terrifying Journey Through The World's Most Dangerous Country

3.9 11
by Tim Butcher
     
 

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Published to rave reviews in the United Kingdom and named a Richard & Judy Book Club selection—the only work of nonfiction on the 2008 list—Blood River is the harrowing and audacious story of Tim Butcher’s journey in the Congo and his retracing of legendary explorer H. M. Stanley’s famous 1874 expedition in which he mapped the…  See more details below

Overview


Published to rave reviews in the United Kingdom and named a Richard & Judy Book Club selection—the only work of nonfiction on the 2008 list—Blood River is the harrowing and audacious story of Tim Butcher’s journey in the Congo and his retracing of legendary explorer H. M. Stanley’s famous 1874 expedition in which he mapped the Congo River. When Daily Telegraph correspondent Tim Butcher was sent to Africa in 2000 he quickly became obsessed with the legendary Congo River and the idea of recreating Stanley’s journey along the three-thousand-mile waterway. Despite warnings that his plan was suicidal, Butcher set out for the Congo’s eastern border with just a backpack and a few thousand dollars hidden in his boots. Making his way in an assortment of vehicles, including a motorbike and a dugout canoe, helped along by a cast of characters from UN aid workers to a pygmy rights advocate, he followed in the footsteps of the great Victorian adventurer. An utterly absorbing narrative that chronicles Butcher’s forty-four-day journey along the Congo River, Blood River is an unforgettable story of exploration and survival.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

A New York Times Bestseller

“Quite superb . . . a masterpiece.” —John le Carré

“Less an adventure tale than a journalistic investigation of what has gone wrong in the Congo, and why . . . Butcher’s breadth of knowledge is both impressive and eclectic.” —Washington Post

“Some travel is inspired, some courageous, some insane. And every now and then someone undertakes a trek that is all three, as happened when Butcher traveled the length of the Congo River . . . a gripping account of [Butcher’s] perilous journey through the heart of Africa and its embattled people.” —Seattle Post-Intelligencer

“Devastating yet strangely exhilarating . . . [Butcher’s] tale is chock-a-block with gruesome details about the brutal Belgian rule of the late 19th century as well as the casual disregard for life on the contemporary scene. Part travelogue, part straight-forward reportage, Butcher’s story is a full-throated lament for large-scale human potential wasted with no reasonable end in sight.” —Publishers Weekly

“A somber, eye-opening journey into the definitive heart of darkness . . . a brilliant account of a broken land, one that certainly deserves the attention this excellent book brings.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Tim Butcher deserves a medal for this crazy feat. I marvel at his courage and his empathy with the unfortunate Congolese when he re-enacted Stanley’s appalling journey across the continent.” —Thomas Pakenham, author of The Scramble for Africa

“This is a terrific book, an adventure story about a journey of great bravery in one of the world’s most dangerous places. It keeps the heart beating and the attention fixed from beginning to end.” —Fergal Keane, author of Season of Blood: A Rwandan Journey

“It’s a fine book, and I greatly enjoyed it. It’s a story of the extraordinary courage, tenacity and endurance of two men: H.M. Stanley, and Tim Butcher, who wrote it. The DR Congo is one of the most dangerous and unpredictable countries on earth, and to have penetrated into the depths of its darkness and described it so fully is a great achievement. It even left me with more of an affection for Stanley than I have ever felt before. As for Butcher, I have nothing but admiration for him.” —John Simpson, author of Simpson’s World: Dispatches from the Front Line

“A grim and gripping read.” —Christopher Hart, Sunday Times

“Gripping.” —Esquire

“From his adventure, [Butcher] has plundered a wealth of terrific stories and survived to recite a rosary of unstinting horror.” —Nicholas Shakespeare, The Telegraph

“Butcher’s 21st century eye gives a whole new slant on [Stanley’s] African expedition.” —Sunday Express

“Both stirring and thought-provoking.” —Anthony Daniels, Sunday Telegraph

“What makes Blood River such a compelling read is the fact that the journey becomes an exercise in mental terror, the author skillfully conveying the exhaustion of six weeks on tenterhooks, wondering what might happen just around the next bend.” —Jim Blackburn, Wanderlust

“A remarkable travelogue of exquisite proportions . . . nothing short of a modern-day masterpiece.” —Aesthetica Magazine

“It throws light on a place that lives in such extreme darkness, most of us have lost sight of it completely. In doing so it reminds us that travel writing can still be exciting, uncompromising and politically relevant.”—Anthony Sattin, Spectator

“Butcher’s account of his journey down the ‘Blood River’ is terrific in every sense . . . It is an extraordinarily compelling book by a talented writer with something to say—and I suspect that Conrad would have liked it very much indeed.” —Geographical Magazine

“A remarkable, fascinating book by a courageous and perceptive writer. One of the most exciting books to emerge from Africa in recent years.” —Alexander McCall Smith

“This is a terrific book, an adventure story about a journey of great bravery in one of the world’s most dangerous places.” —Fergal Keane, author of Season of Blood

“An intrepid adventure. In making and describing this journey, Tim Butcher has followed in the footsteps of Stanley and Conrad. It takes a lot of guts to yomp through the Congo and he obviously has plenty of those. But it is the wit and passion of the writing that keeps you engrossed.” —Giles Foden, author of The Last King of Scotland

“The day of the solitary intrepid traveler is not over. Tim Butcher’s extraordinary, audacious journey through the Congo is worthy of the great nineteenth-century explorers. Completely enthralling but also a thoughtful and sobering portrait of modern Africa.” —William Boyd, author of Restless

“Tim Butcher deserves a medal for this crazy feat. I marvel at his courage and his empathy with the unfortunate Congolese when he reenacted Stanley’s appalling journey across the continent.” —Thomas Pakenham, author of The Scramble For Africa

“Tim Butcher has written a wonderful adventure story about one of the least known regions of modern Africa—because it is among the most dangerous. Blood River represents a remarkable marriage of travelogue and history, which deserves to make Tim Butcher a star for his prose, as well as his courage.” —Max Hastings, author of Armageddon: The Battle For Germany

Kira Salak
Butcher constantly juxtaposes present and past realities, giving his narrative the surreal feel of time travel. His journey is complemented by quotations from Stanley's travel narrative, Through the Dark Continent, published in 1878, and by numerous interviews he conducted with local people, including Congolese mayors and Greek expats. Butcher's breadth of knowledge is both impressive and eclectic.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

"For me terror manifests itself through clear physical symptoms, an ache that grows behind my knees and a choking dryness in my throat," writes British journalist Butcher in the preface of this devastating yet strangely exhilarating account of his six-week ordeal retracing the steps of 19th-century explorer H.M. Stanley's Victorian-era travels through the present-day hell that is the Republic of Congo. Setting out into the war-torn, disease-infested backcountry of Congo in 2000 against the wishes of just about everyone in his life-family, friends, editors and a wild assortment of government officials (the corrupt and the more corrupt)-Butcher quickly finds more horror than he'd previously experienced in his 10 years as a war correspondent ("With my own eyes I had peered into a hidden African world where human bones too numerous to bury were left lying on the ground"). His tale is chock-a-block with gruesome details about the brutal Belgian rule of the late 19th century as well as the casual disregard for life on the contemporary scene. Part travelogue, part straight-forward reportage, Butcher's story is a full-throated lament for large-scale human potential wasted with no reasonable end in sight. (Oct.)

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Library Journal

Part adventure travelog and part historical narrative, this book chronicles Daily Telegraph correspondent Butcher's intrepid journey across the heart of the Congo. As the Telegraph's African bureau chief, Butcher sought to appease his growing obsession with this troubled African nation by retracing H.M. Stanley's famous 1874 mapping expedition of the Congo River. Thus ensued an amazing 44-day adventure through some of the Congo's most dangerous regions, many untraveled in decades. Thankfully, the text offers more than just a solitary explorer's romp and reflection through Africa. Although at times caught up in his personal struggles with loneliness, disease, and fatigue, Butcher does manage to accomplish a greater good. He shares the stories of ordinary people, aid workers, and missionaries all desperately trying to subsist in a country lacking the fundamentals of law and order. It is in these moments that his book shines. What Butcher's tale lacks in political analysis is redeemed by the honesty of his writing and his genuine attempt to bring international interest to the Congo and the struggles of its citizens. Recommended for large public libraries and academic libraries with African studies, geography, or travel collections.
—Veronica Arellano

Kirkus Reviews
A somber, eye-opening journey into the definitive heart of darkness. Joseph Conrad is the tutelary spirit of this work by Daily Telegraph correspondent Butcher, who for years "had stared at maps dominated by the Congo River, a silver-bladed sickle, its handle anchored on the coasts, its tip buried deep in the equatorial forest" and, emphatically without the approval of his newspaper employer, decided to travel the 3,000-odd-mile length of the river. Conrad may be the spirit, but the book's more literal guide is the 19th-century adventurer Henry Stanley, as miscreant an imperialist as ever there was. Half a century ago, Butcher's mother made the voyage down the Congo, but that was before the country had disintegrated into postcolonial civil war and what Butcher, quoting her, refers to as "a great deal of ‘beastliness.' " An ardent student of history and culture, Butcher could find no single expert, before undertaking his voyage, who could make sense of the entire country. After his trip, so eloquently described here, he may be the only Western journalist with such a handle on that vast region. His book is of tremendous use to geographers, development specialists and humanitarian aid workers, as well as armchair travelers. One thing he turns up almost immediately is the impossibility of domestic harmony in a land where local government is impossible. As one of his interlocutors, a town mayor, says, "I can pay no civil servants because I have no money and there is no bank or post office where money could be received, and we have no civil servants because all the schools and hospitals and everything do not work." Nonetheless, Butcher finds a few rays of hope even in a place where, by hisreckoning, about 1,200 lives a day are lost in a civil war that the international community seems to consider "a lost cause without hope of ever being put right."A brilliant account of a broken land, one that certainly deserves the attention this excellent book brings. Agent: Camilla Hornby/Curtis Brown

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780802144331
Publisher:
Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
Publication date:
09/01/2009
Edition description:
First Trade Paper Edition
Pages:
384
Sales rank:
608,744
Product dimensions:
5.54(w) x 8.28(h) x 1.01(d)

Meet the Author

Tim Butcher has worked for the Daily Telegraph since 1990 as foreign affairs leader writer, defense correspondent and Africa Bureau Chief. He is currently living in Jerusalem where he is The Telegraph’s Middle East correspondent.


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Blood River: The Terrifying Journey Through The World's Most Dangerous Country 3.9 out of 5 based on 1 ratings. 11 reviews.
McFriendly More than 1 year ago
This book was gripping and un-put-downable. Tim Butcher skillfully conveys the menace and terror that lurks around every bend of the jungle trail as he tries to retrace Stanley's journey through one of the most dangerous countries on earth. He also illustrates (powerfully) how the Congo has devolved - from a bustling, civilized destination for tourism and commerce (in the 1950s) to the decrepit, festering backwater it is today. Best scene? When he arrives at a missionary's remote house deep in the jungle - and the terrified occupant urges him to leave post haste. Honestly one of the best travel books I've ever read and a sad commentary on a country most of the world has forgotten.
TheReadingWriter More than 1 year ago
What is it with me and muggy, hot, equatorial places and rivers? Like the book The Lost City of Z by David Grann, Blood River recounts the tale of Tim Butcher's crazy obsession to the trace the routes of a great explorer, Stanley in this case, through the Congo. While the rest of the world has become more accessible in the past half century, these two equatorial locales on different continents show that winning a battle (finding a route, establishing a forward post, or even building a city) is not winning a war (creating a functioning state). Vegetation has reclaimed much of the railway in the Congo, and once busy trading hubs have fallen into disrepair with no functioning services. Rule of law is unknown. Despair is endemic. In a way, the Congo may be a perfect example of how bad things can get when a state goes so wrong that great wealth of a few is squandered in the face of the unbounded poverty of the majority. And the resources are there for everyone to share in the future. All I could think was to have millions and millions of people descend on the Congo at once--the equivalent of holding a thrashing baby to silence it--and rock it into silence, until it unclenched enough to learn and notice there might be a better way to get what one needs. It is a terrible waste. Mankind is not always to be admired. We need to find a way to bring out the best in the Congo.
tjs83 More than 1 year ago
This book about the Congo provides great insight into a little known topic. It is very well written and the blend between history and the author's experiences are very good. The book will make you a little upset about the way things are there. I recommend this to everyone.
TulaneGirl More than 1 year ago
Everything about this book screamed me. I am an adventure traveler and the prospect of recreating Stanley's trip down the Congo definitely seemed like something I would thoroughly enjoy. How could it go wrong? With arrogance and elitism. Had this book been simply about the lush, tropics of the Congo and the challenges posed by travel through an undeveloped part of the world, I probably would have liked it more. However, Mr. Butcher instead dabbles into political commentary and makes some really outrageous statements about pre-and post-colonial Congo. Even THAT could have been forgiven since I don't need to read books that conform to my POV. No. The thing that turned me off completely was Mr. Butcher's imposition on the UN and other international humanitarian organizations for its scarce resources and manpower. Then, worse was his presumption that he would be helped along simply because his idea is a fantastical one. I mean, who WOULDN'T want to help a white dude in the Congo along on his vanity project. And then, he has the audacity to criticize the conditions that slowed him down and, ultimately, made his vanity project impossible. Honestly. I've never read such an oblivious book.
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But a slow read
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