Blood River: A Journey to Africa's Broken Heart

Blood River: A Journey to Africa's Broken Heart

by Tim Butcher




A compulsively readable account of a journey to the Congo — a country virtually inaccessible to the outside world — vividly told by a daring and adventurous journalist.

Ever since Stanley first charted its mighty river in the 1870s, the Congo has epitomized the dark and turbulent history of a failed continent. However, its troubles only served to increase the interest of Daily Telegraph correspondent Tim Butcher, who was sent to cover Africa in 2000. Before long he became obsessed with the idea of recreating Stanley’s original expedition — but travelling alone.

Despite warnings Butcher spent years poring over colonial-era maps and wooing rebel leaders before making his will and venturing to the Congo’s eastern border. He passed through once thriving cities of this country and saw the marks left behind by years of abuse and misrule. Almost, 2,500 harrowing miles later, he reached the Atlantic Ocean, a thinner and a wiser man.

Butcher’s journey was a remarkable feat. But the story of the Congo, vividly told in Blood River, is more remarkable still.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780099494287
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 05/27/2008
Pages: 272
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 7.75(h) x 0.85(d)

About 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.

Table of Contents

Preface     xi
Africa's Broken Heart     1
The Final Frontier     29
Cobalt Town     51
The Pearl of Tanganyika     75
Walked to Death     117
The Jungle Books     153
Up a River Without a Paddle     177
Pirogue Progress     211
The Equator Express     231
Bend in the River     253
River Passage     291
Road Rage     317
Epilogue     343
Bibliography     347
Acknowledgements     349
Index     351

Reading Group Guide

1. What do you think of Tim Butcher’s decision to go on this journey in the Congo? Was it brave or foolhardy? Intrepid or insane? Would you ever consider such a journey yourself? If so, why?

2. Do you think Tim is correct, that you can only understand a country by visiting it in person? If so, is it possible to gain a comprehensive understanding of a country by just travelling through, or do you think it’s necessary to live somewhere to get to know it properly?

3. Do you think it gives a fair picture of life in the Congo? Would a Congolese voice tell things differently?

4. What did you know about the Congo before reading Blood River? Did reading it change your perception of the country? If so, how?

5. Which episode in the book sticks most clearly in your head?

6. In what ways does Tim Butcher explore the relationship between Europe and Africa in Blood River?

7. How does his final route compare to that of H.M Stanley’s expedition?

8. Do you think that Tim Butcher’s portrayal of the Congo and its future is for the most part positive, or pessimistic? What are your own feelings and what, if anything, do you think should be done?

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews

Blood River: A Journey to Africa's Broken Heart 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
mwhel on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This very engrossing travelogue of the author's journey down the Congo River is told against a backdrop of the recorded history of many other explorers, adventurers, missionaries, mercenaries, native peoples, profiteers, international aid workers, government officials, revolutionaries, movie stars(!) and others who have left their impact on the country throughout the last two centuries. The historical references alone would have made this an interesting read.In 2004, the Democratic Republic of Congo had declined to a state that was in many ways worse than the pre-colonial era when Henry Morton Stanley first made the voyage that this author attempted to duplicate here. Conditions were deplorable everywhere and the voyage was full of potential hazard. His motto, "cities bad, open good" serves him well. It is heart-sickening to read of the corruption, greed and ruthlessness that is routine is a country of such vast natural resources.Like Jeffrey Tayler in "Facing the Congo" and Peter Stark in "At the Mercy of the River", the author is eventually brought down by sickness. I am left with the impression that without his connections with UN personnel stationed in remote areas and cash reserves, the author would not likely have gotten far along this jouney.
richardgarside on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Brings to life all the ills of Africa under Africans
samsheep on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A superb book - the tale of an amazing adventure combined with a highly readable distillation of Congo history. I cannot comprehend why someone would want to undertake such a journey but I'm very glad he did, and lived to tell the tale.
Bibliophial on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An engrossing, informative, often terrifying travel book about a journalist's retracing of the steps of Stanley along the river Congo, "the broken heart of Africa". Compelling.
ashmolean1 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I don't read a lot of non fiction but this is one of those that reads like fiction. Butcher's journey to follow the path of Stanley up the Congo was fascinating. He gives you background history about the Congo as well as details of his own perilous journey in an easy to read narrative style. Well worth reading.
bibliobibuli on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Tim Butcher, a journalist for The Daily Telegraph decides to recreate H.M. Stanley's famous expedition in the 1870's. (Stanley had been also sponsored by the same newspaper!) He was also curious to see the country that his mother had visited in the 1950's as a tourist. He was told that by just about everyone he contacted that the journey was impossible, but against the odds he manages to enlist the help of aid workers (including a pygmy human rights activist and the Malaysian commander of a vessel working for the UN) and others. Each stage of the journey is uncertain, and he's constantly in danger of his life and in great discomfort. But he does manage in the end to find the transport he needs (motorcycles, dugouts, a UN barge) and the journey continues. It's impossible not to salute his courage.Blood River : A Journey into Africa's Broken Heart is a fascinating account, not just because it takes us into a part of the world we wouldn't normally venture into and lets us share the journey (from our comfy armchairs!), but also for the historical perspectives which are woven into the narrative.In the space of half a century, Congo has gone completely backwards - it is not "a developing country", or an "underdeveloped country", so much as an "un-developing country", going backwards so fast that almost nothing remains of the infrastructure left under Belgian rule due to the greed and incompetence of its leaders. It's a terrifying portrait of how quickly things can unravel. You also come to realise that putting things right isn't a matter of throwing financial aid at the problems, but in establishing the rule of law.It's impossible not to really pity the ordinary people of this failed country, but that there is such potential for economic growth (minerals, fertile land) turns this missed opportunity into a grand tragedy. The book was chosen as one of the reads for the Richard and Judy bookclub and of course made the shortlist for this year's Samuel Johnson Prize.
Rynooo on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Whilst it was great to learn about the Congo's colourful history, the book tends to be over-sentimental and repetitive, particularly towards the end. Additionally, the author's journey was surprisingly uneventful and relatively drama free.