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Facing the Congo: A Modern-Day Journey into the Heart of Darkness Paperback – October 9, 2001

4.0 out of 5 stars 49 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From the Inside Flap

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.

From the Back Cover

“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.”
—CNN.com

“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
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway Books (October 9, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0609808265
  • ISBN-13: 978-0609808269
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.9 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (49 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #745,097 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Michael H. Frederick on April 13, 2005
Format: Paperback
I've recently become a fan of Jeffrey Tayler's writing. Having just finished "Angry Wind" I quickly ordered two more of his books, including "Facing the Congo." It's quite a harrowing tale.

In the 1990s Tayler traveled up the Congo on a freight barge to Kisangani and back down on a native canoe (pirogue). Throughout the narrative I found myself cringing at some of the descriptions and wondering why anyone would put themselves through such a trial. In retrospect it was a very foolhardy adventure. The problem was, however, once he was in the middle of it there was nothing to do but finish, dangerous though it was.

Throughout the tale, Tayler's white face provokes and incites the people along the Congo River. There's no getting around it and at times his life is in real danger. One wonders, however, how he could come to some of the decisions he made. He hires a guide he barely knows, a guide whose incompetence is maddening. The guy buys a shotgun (with $300 of Tayler's money) that doesn't work, he lets his family use all the precious drinking water to do laundry and he spouts passages from the Bible and Zaire's employment law at night or while they're paddling downriver. What a nightmare.

The lives of the Zaireans, in many cases, appear to be hell on earth. Their hand-to-mouth existence causes them to take desperate action, resulting in corrupt officials and military constantly angling for bribes, fellow barge passengers begging Tayler for anything, boldly demanding he give them money and food or, worse, trying to rob him, or (if they could get away with it) murder him with machetes. As a "mondele" (white man) he's seen with great suspicion about his motives but also as a bottomless source for riches.
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Format: Paperback
Having lived along the Oubangui River (just a pirogue ride to Zaire) at about the same time that the author undertook his journey along the Congo, reading this brought back a lot of memories. I probably rated higher for nostalgia, so take the rating with a grain of salt. What I admired most about this book was the honesty that Mr. Tayler brought to it. He knows that he is a privileged, white (yes, it does matter) guy undertaking a journey for purely selfish interests among people who are literally dying around him that cannot understand the absurdity of the journey and he knows that he will never be able to explain it to them. I found it refreshing that this writer writes as much about his struggles each day with weighing these thoughts against the simple desire to complete the voyage. There's a lot to learn in this book about balancing one's selfish goals against the guilt that can come with the simple ability (financial and otherwise) to undertake them. The fact that he does so without the typical (I'm an RPCV, so I can say this) Peace-Corps-type bravado is refreshing. I won't give away the ending, but Mr. Tayler's decision allows him to face a lot more than the Congo.
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Format: Paperback
In the 1980s Helen Winternitz wrote "East Along the Equator" which chronicled her journey from Kinshasa to Kisangani by river barge. This stretch of the Congo river was probably first written about in "Through the Dark Continent" by Henry Morton Stanley, who, in the employ of the King of Belgium, laid the foundation of the Congo Free State which inspired Conrad to write "Heart of Darkness" and the disintegration and aftermath of which became the subject of V. S. Naipaul's "A Bend in the River" and Barbara Kingsolver's "The Poisonwood Bible".
Now, Jeffrey Tayler in "Facing the Congo" tells the story of his attempt to recreate Stanley's voyage down the Congo river. He begins as did Winternitz, taking a barge up the river in the mid 1990s. As there are virtually no roads in the Congo region these river barges are the only transportation available to the average Congolese. They function as floating villages, filled with merchants who trade manufactured goods for forest products along the river route. As if that isn't enough for a book, Tayler then buys a pirogue (canoe), hires a guide, and attempts to paddle back down to where he started.
"Facing the Congo" is an excellent record of his trip. He is a thoughtful and thought-provoking writer and as is the case with most good travel writing the book is not only a record of his voyage, but also a record of self-discovery. Especially interesting are his interactions with the Congolese people he encounters along the way: people who usually can't fathom why a foreigner would be travelling the way he is. Other writers might simply depict such encounters in a comical or stereotypical fashion; Tayler makes an honest attempt to see their world through their eyes. He even manages some sympathy for the military and secret police officials that block his path. A good choice for any armchair traveler or anyone interested in Central Africa.
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Format: Paperback
It is not often that one has the opportunity to enjoy an excellent book, and then, have the pleasure to actually meet the author. So be it: Jeffrey Tayler is currently my houseguest in Brazzaville, Republic of Congo, where he began the arduous journey which resulted in "Facing the Congo" in 1995. The city has survived the devastation of civil war, 1997-2001, and is flourishing once again thanks to bountiful natural resources of timber, minerals and oil. Let's hope this will be enough to inspire Jeffrey to reprise his adventure on the Congo River and perhaps to share once again his experiences with a loyal following. A must read, not only for diplomats, travellers or tourists to the Central African region, but for the armchair "explorer" as well.
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