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Blood River: A Journey to Africa's Broken Heart

Blood River: A Journey to Africa's Broken Heart

by Tim Butcher

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 renowned explorer H. M. Stanley's famous 1874 expedition in which he mapped the Congo River. When


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 renowned 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 re-creating Stanley's legendary 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 rucksack 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 adventurers. An utterly absorbing narrative that chronicles Tim Butcher's forty-four-day journey along the Congo River, Blood River is an unforgettable story of exploration and survival.

Editorial Reviews

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.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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
From the Publisher
“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

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

“Tim Butcher deserves a medal for this crazy feat. I marvel at his courage and his empathy.”–Thomas Pakenham

Product Details

Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.30(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.30(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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