Facing the Congo: A Modern-Day Journey Into the Heart of Darkness


Faced with an identity crisis in his work and his life, seasoned traveler and journalist Jeffrey Tayler made a bold decision. He would leave behind his mundane existence in Moscow to re-create the legendary British explorer Henry Stanley’s trip down the Congo in a dugout canoe, stocked with food, medicine, and even a gun-toting guide. But once his tiny boat pushed off the banks of this mysterious river, Tayler realized he was in a place where maps and supplies would have no bearing on his survival. As Tayler ...

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Faced with an identity crisis in his work and his life, seasoned traveler and journalist Jeffrey Tayler made a bold decision. He would leave behind his mundane existence in Moscow to re-create the legendary British explorer Henry Stanley’s trip down the Congo in a dugout canoe, stocked with food, medicine, and even a gun-toting guide. But once his tiny boat pushed off the banks of this mysterious river, Tayler realized he was in a place where maps and supplies would have no bearing on his survival. As Tayler navigates this immense waterway, he encounters a land of smothering heat and intense rains, wary villagers, corrupt officials and dead-eyed soldiers demanding bribes, jungle animals, mosquitoes, and, surprisingly, breathtaking natural beauty.

Filled with honesty and rich description, Facing the Congo is a sophisticated depiction of today’s Democratic Republic of the Congo, a country brought to its knees by a succession of despotic leaders. But most mportant, Tayler’s stunning narrative is a deeply satisfying personal journey of fear and awakening, with a message that will resonate with anyone who has ever felt compelled, whether in life or in fantasy, to truly explore and experience our world.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“One of the best travel books of 2000.”
The New York Times Book Review

“Heart-stopping, breathtaking adventure. Facing the Congo is a book worth reading and rereading.”
—Morning Edition, National Public Radio

Facing the Congo does what a travel book is supposed to do. It presents a vividly described world that brings the reader as close to the Congo as words can do, inspiring the type of wanderlust that can only be sated by one’s picking a spot on a map and just going.”

“Tayler goes off the beaten path to give us a much deeper version of the truth, and unlike so many other gonzo travel writers, he is not politically naïve.”
—Robert Kaplan, author of Balkan Ghosts

From The Critics
Tayler, a former Peace Corps worker, retraces Henry Morton Stanley's 1870s trip down the longest navigable stretch of the Congo, from Kisangani to Kinshasa, a distance of one-thousand-eighty-four miles. After arriving in Brazzaville, Tayler spends a week studying Lingala, the lingua franca of the area, and worrying about what he might encounter down the river. After taking a ferry to Kinshasa, a city so decrepit and filthy he's reminded of Hiroshima after the blast, he boards a crowded barge where all are suspicious of his motives, thinking he's there to find diamonds or other wealth. Amid all the poverty and hunger around him, Tayler begins to feel "obscene," with his stash of food and money. After twenty-one days on the barge, he hires a guide and begins his own journey, fending off ants, crocodiles, robbers and rainstorms in the process. Lush, vivid writing intensifies the tension created by both the physical demands on Tayler and the emotional conflict he feels as a rich white man in a country where history has left a mark between whites and blacks that's barely begun to fade.
—Ann Collette
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In this Heart of Darkness-revisited tale, Tayler (Siberian Dawn) sets out to retrace the steps of British explorer Henry Morton Stanley, who in the 1870s, accompanied by a crew of hundreds of Africans and three Europeans, sailed the entire length of the Congo River in a pirogue. At 33, Tayler, an American ex-pat living in Moscow, finds himself wading into the murky waters of an existential crisis. Having traveled and lived in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, and journeyed across Siberia, he is unable to shake off the wanderlust bug. But his personal crisis runs deeper than whether to find a job and settle down. "The imperative," he writes, "is to accept the frightening yet liberating fact of our finitude... not to succumb to the illusion, comforting though it may be, that our days will go on and on." He makes a final lunge in the hope that "facing the Congo" will create more meaning for him than simply a new adventure. Tayler arrives, however, not in Stanley's 19th-century Congo, but in Mobutu's corrupt and strife-ridden Zaire in the aftermath of the infamous pillaging that tore the country asunder in the early 1990s. Throughout his journey downriver, the author ruminates on the significance of his own life and the history of the Congo and its terrible legacy of colonialism and enslavement, asking what "right" he or any Westerner has to venture, pockets full of cash, into a foreign land stricken with poverty and misery. Eloquent and sincere, Tayler brings immense cultural sensitivity to his journey, fully conscious that the poverty and misery are in large part due to Western hegemony. His story, however, ends abruptly, and his questioning sinks deep into the jungle whence it came. (Sept.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Transports readers into the jungles and crocodile-infested waters of sub-Saharan Africa. The author travels a river barge teeming with merchants, mothers, prostitutes, fishermen, and spiritual followers, then launches his quest to confront the Congo River by descending its longest navigational stretch in a hand-carved canoe. Includes b&w photos. Lacks a subject index. Tayler has written for magazines including Nast Traveler/>, , and , and is a commentator on NPR's . Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
From The Critics
Part travelogue, part memoir, Jeffrey Tayler's Facing The Congo takes the reader on a memorable and fascinating journey into sub-Saharan Africa's crocodile waters and lush jungles, lush jungles, and a spectacular variety of merchants, deckhands, prostitutes, mothers, spiritual followers, fishermen, children, and many other assorted charecters. From lively marketplace banter to cramped, mosquito infested sleeping spaces, Facing The Congo is the story of Tayler's trip up and down the legendary Congo River complete with fog covered backwaters, hostile tribes, and true-life high adventure. Facing The Congo is thoroughly satisfying, enthusiastically recommended reading for the armchair traveler.
Kirkus Reviews
A dangerous and self-indulgent journey up and down the Congo River: thankfully, travel-writer Tayler (Siberian Dawn, 1999) comes in the end to understand it as such. Feeling a peckishness of the spirit for all the tried-and-true reasons-his job a corporate trap, his writing going nowhere, the need for a "defining achievement" at a "decisive moment," the fact that at his age Christ had already died-Tayler decides to hit the road. V. S. Naipaul's A Bend in the River struck the spark, and Stanley's 1870 expedition fanned it into a blaze: He would travel the Congo (Zaire at the time of his 1995 trip) River from Kinshasa to Kisangani, 1,100 miles in a pirogue. That ought to blow the gunk out of his carburetor, particularly since he knows that Mobutu's Zaire was one corrupt, murderous, uncomfortable-but impossibly romantic-place. The barge trip up the river to Kisangani drives home the discomfort and corruption, and the shroud of suspicion that rests on any white traveler to those parts-the whites are assumed to be after something, from diamonds to you-don't-want-to-know-but erases any romantic notions. Tayler isn't much of a place portraitist ("the sun died a vivid death in a violet sky"), but he does an ample job of conveying the dread of a nation still on its knees from the army looting sprees of 1991 and 1993. The "heat and crowd and hassle" of the barge trip is more than matched by the terror of the downriver paddle in the pirogue. Out of a land of parrots and butterflies would come strangers, saying to Tayler and his guide: "Ah, you have a gun. You win! We would have robbed and killed you both, and who would have ever known!" Ultimately, he realizes he is endangering not just his ownlife, but the lives of others in his company, and that the trip proves little but how scared one can become. A voyage fit only for lunatics. In terms of achievement, Tayler could as easily have played Russian roulette.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780609808269
  • Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 10/28/2001
  • Pages: 260
  • Sales rank: 640,442
  • Product dimensions: 5.22 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.63 (d)

Meet the Author

JEFFREY TAYLER is the author of Siberian Dawn: A Journey Across the New Russia. He writes for Condé Nast Traveler, Spin, Harper’s, and other publications and is a commentator on NPR’s All Things Considered. Two of his essays appear in the inaugural edition of The Best American Travel Writing. He lives in Russia.

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Read an Excerpt

Desi [my guide] and I looked at each other, then turned to the river. Eleven hundred miles to Kinshasha...my heart was thumping and sweat stung my eyes. Raising his hands, Desi faced the blackness and began muttering a prayer, an invocation in Lingala punctuated with the French for salvation, mercy, the grace of God... We stood for a moment, as if to let the words take effect. Then we grabbed our oars and climbed a aboard—I at the bow and Desi astern—and pushed off.
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 19, 2005


    This was most definetly not one of the best books I've read. It was not only very slow moving, but most of the book was now about the authors decent down the congo river, but rather his preparations for it. The ending also dissapointed me immensely. However, it does give one the unapoligetic view of the Congo and its many dangers. It is good as a reference book!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 3, 2004

    Facing the Congo: A Modern-Day Journey into the Heart of Darkness

    Brave or foolish? Or is the writer the ultimate thrill seeker? What a story..what a book! Of all the books I have read this was possibly the most thrilling. This writer goes into the Congo Republic alone to travel the Congo River on a progue (narrow canoe). What was he thinking? He had to deal with the river, weather, different tribal cultures (many of which would have killed him if they'd only had the chance), along with animals, bugs, diseases, and the ever present danger he faced for being caucasion (due to past crimes brought on to the peoples of these remote areas by europeans, arabs, and others). The only book I have ever read that had me on the edge of my seat! I wish I'd never read it so I could read it again for the first time!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 29, 2003

    Facing the Congo: A Modern-Day Journey into the Heart of Darkness

    This book is within the top five most exciting books I have ever read (I read non-fiction only). A true but sad account of the state of affairs in the Congo Republic. This book has it all. Intense writing about the dangers the writer faced from the current politics, people, cultures along the Congo River, along with wild animals, bugs, the weather... all ready to deny the writer his life at any given moment. A riviting experience in reading!

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