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Blood River Hardcover – International Edition, July 3, 2007

4.3 out of 5 stars 142 customer reviews

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Hardcover, International Edition, July 3, 2007
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Editorial Reviews

From 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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

A journalist for the UK’s Daily Telegraph, Butcher undertook a hazardous African trip in 2004, traveling from Lake Tanganyika to the Atlantic Ocean via the Congo River. And he did not travel via foreigners’ usual conveyance in Africa—aircraft—but overland by motorbike, dugout canoe, and UN patrol boat. This account of his six-week-long journey proves to be an exceptionally gripping example of travel writing, not only because of its roster of obstacles surmounted by the resourceful traveler but also because of its empathy for those who assisted Butcher in passing through the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Encountering ordinary Congolese, staff of the UN and humanitarian agencies, and elderly holdovers from the Belgian colonial era, Butcher catches their life stories as he recounts the historical waypoints (such as Henry Stanley’s 1874–77 exploration, whose route Butcher followed) in Congo’s connection to and postcolonial detachment from the modern world, symbolized in dilapidated sights such as crumbling post offices and hulks of river boats. Depicting the country’s dire physical plight and lawless corruption, Butcher delivers an unblinking firsthand portrait of contemporary Congo. --Gilbert Taylor --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Chatto & Windus (July 3, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0701179813
  • ISBN-13: 978-0701179816
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (142 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,659,996 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Fifty years ago the Democratic Republic of Congo -- then just ceasing to be the Belgian Congo -- had a modern network of roads, railways and river transportation, with adequate accommodation available in all of the main centres. Today none of that exists, and the only practical way of getting about is by air, and that with difficulty and even danger. As Tim Butcher remarks at one point, "I looked at the sickly child and tried to think of another country in the world where a baby born in the same place half a century earlier had more chance of surviving than today" (the last few words are quoted from memory, and hence are probably quoted inaccurately).

So when he decided to follow Henry Morton Stanley's land route in the 1870s from Lake Tanganyika to the River Congo and then follow the river to Boma, on the coast, this was not the trivial task it would have been in the 1950s, and many experts on the country said it would be impossible and dangerous and that he would almost certainly be killed if he attempted it. In some ways he had an even more difficult task than Stanley, with no Zanzibari bearers to carry all his stuff, and no guns to shoot anyone who tried to thwart him. Nonetheless, he largely succeeded (with considerable help, it must be said, from a series of aid workers and United Nations representatives), apart from flying about a quarter of the total distance, from Mbandaka to Kinshasa ("no capital city in the world more unrepresentative of its country"), when he felt to ill to continue. He describes Mbandaka as "a sad collection of ruins", but unfortunately this description applies equally well to almost everywhere he went.
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Format: Hardcover
Tim Butcher was the African correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph, the newspaper that sponsored two of Henry Stanley's African expeditions. Butcher got the notion to re-trace Stanley's trek across the Congo, from Lake Tanganyika to the mouth of the Congo River on the Atlantic Ocean. In 2004, during a relative lull in the bloodshed and anarchic mayhem that has convulsed the interior of the Congo for decades, Buther took six weeks to make the journey, by motor-bike, UN river boats, pirogue, helicopter, and jeep. BLOOD RIVER is his account of his trek, interspersed with history of the Congo, from the initial colonization of the Portuguese, to the brutal and greedy rule of King Leopold and the Belgians, to the post-colonial era, during which the rape and exploitation of the country, and the attendant bloodshed, has continued apace, perhaps at times even intensifying.

There undoubtedly is much of interest and value in BLOOD RIVER, but there are three overriding problems with the book. First, I have the sense that Butcher tends to be sloppy with his facts. For example, he implies that ebola was one of the tropical diseases that confronted 19th-Century European explorers and he states that Joseph Conrad, when he came to the Congo for his one mission there (the basis for Conrad's "The Heart of Darkness"), was "a professional skipper of steamboats." Minor errors, to be sure, but they force me to take all of Butcher's factual pronouncements with a grain of salt.

Second, Butcher's writing is ordinary. He is prone to needless repetition, and far too often his writing is cliched and overly melodramatic. For example: "That moment when I left the east bank of the river was special for me.
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Format: Hardcover
Tim Butcher's book BLOOD RIVER was recommended by Amazon last summer and I bought it because I am fascinated by the Congo. Having read King Leopold's Ghost,In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz, Heart of Darkness as well as The Poisonwood Bible, I was intrigued by an update on the Congo, especially by someone adventurous (I did think crazy)enough to try to follow Stanley's journey across Africa from east to west in the current political/savage climate.
Mr. Butcher is a journalist, so he knows how to use words to convey a mood, or a place or a person. And in this book, he is at his best. You are tugged along almost reluctantly on his trip,knowing that he obviously survived, but wondering how he could have possibly made it all the way. Everyone told him not to try it, but somehow there were also very helpful people along the way.
The one man who begged him to take his four year old with him, the guys on the motorbikes, the pirogue pole guys and the captain of the boat are all unforgettable. I especially liked that Mr. Butcher would bring in historical asides, liked the making of the African Queen and Katherine Hepburn in the hotel that is no longer there, or the travel guide that his mother had. He brings in all the hard historical stuff also, like the Belgians and the hand cutting, as well as the slavery trade.
If you want a book that has it all, plus pictures, get this book and hop on behind Mr. Butcher as he pursues a dream/nightmare journey through Africa.
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Format: Hardcover
"In August 2004 I booked a flight from Johannesburg to the Congo, wrote my first will and kissed Jane goodbye."

On that note, Daily Telegraph reporter Tim Butcher set off on what can only be described as one of the most quixotic expeditions imaginable. In the early years of the 21st century, he had somehow fixated on the idea that he should follow in the footsteps of a former Telegraph reporter -- 19th century explorer and colonialist Henry Stanley (he of "Dr Livingstone, I presume" fame) -- and travel overland and on water the length of the Congo river, thousands of miles to the point where this massive river finally reaches the Atlantic.

Easier said than done. To start with, there is the fact that for the last half century or so, Congo is a country that people try to get out of rather than into. (At one point, a resident of Kisangani tries to persuade Butcher to take his four-year-old son back with him to South Africa, because there is no future for him there.) Aid workers and diplomats thankfully leave the day their postings expire, while members of the UN mission (the longest-running of its kind) exist in tiny airconditioned enclaves in the equatorial jungle and similarly count down the days. Almost the only non-Congolese who seem to enjoy life in the country are those who have come to exploit its mineral assets -- cobalt, diamonds and gold, among other products. They, as Butcher shows, live in protected compounds in Kinshasa.

Indeed, it's that legacy of "asset stripping" -- which Stanley helped ignite -- that Butcher chronicles as he somehow manages to battle his way from one community to the next along his pathway.
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