Ever since Henry Morton Stanley first charted its mighty river in the 1870s, the Congo has epitomised the dark and turbulent history of a failed continent – from colonial cruelty under the Belgians to the kleptocratic chaos of Mobutu Seso Seko and the current post-apocalyptic riot of robber-baron politicians. However, its troubles only served to increase the interest of Daily Telegraph correspondent Tim Butcher, who was sent to cover Africa in 2000. As a child Butcher’s mother had told him of her own genteel river journey there in the 1950s and his connection deepened when he discovered that Stanley’s expedition was funded by the Telegraph. Before long he became obsessed with the idea of journeying along Stanley’s original route.
Despite suggestions by old Africa hands that his plan was ‘suicidal’, Butcher spent years poring over colonial-era maps and wooing rebel leaders before making his will and venturing to the Congo’s eastern border in 2004 with just a rucksack and a few thousand dollars hidden in his boots. Almost 2,500 miles harrowing miles later, he reached the Atlantic Ocean a thinner and a wiser man.
His extraordinary book, Blood River – a Journey to Africa’s Broken Heart, describes a country with more past than present, where giant steamboats lie rotting in the advancing forest and children hear stories from their grandfathers of days when cars once drove by. Butcher’s journey was a remarkable feat. But the story of the Congo, told expertly and vividly in this book, is more remarkable still.
John Le Carré
“Blood River is quite superb – a masterpiece.’’
“Tim Butcher has written a wonderful adventure story about one of the least known regions of modern Africa – because it is among the most dangerous. 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.’’
The Sunday Times
“Tim Butcher’s book is the latest in a long line, running through Joseph Conrad, Graham Greene, VS Naipaul… his account of a hair-rising trip from east to west, against all advice, by motorbike and then river boat, is gripping and harshly informative…’’
“The day of the solitary intrepid traveller is not over. Tim Butcher’s extraordinary, audacious journey through the Congo is worthy of the great 19th century explorers. Completely enthralling but also a thoughtful and sobering portrait of modern Africa.”
Alexander McCall Smith
“A remarkable, fascinating book by a courageous and perceptive writer. One of the most exciting books to emerge from Africa in recent years.’’
The Daily Telegraph
“From his adventure he has plundered a wealth of terrific stories, and survived to recite a rosary of unstinting horror.’’
“This is a terrific book, an adventure story about a journey of great bravery in one of the world’s most dangerous places. It keeps the heart beating and the attention fixed from beginning to end.’’
“An intrepid adventure. In making and describing this journey, Tim Butcher has followed in the footsteps of Stanley and Conrad. It takes a lot of guts to yomp through the Congo and he obviously has plenty of those. But it is the wit and passion of the writing which keeps you engrossed.’’
The Sunday Telegraph
“..stirring and thought-provoking.’’
“Tim Butcher deserves a medal for this crazy feat. I marvel at his courage and his empathy with the unfortunate Congolese when he re-enacted Stanley’s appalling journey across the continent.’’
“….a remarkable travelogue of exquisite proportions…. highly emotive, historical and personal…Butcher’s elegant style demands the reader’s attention…….Blood River is nothing short of a modern-day masterpiece.’’
“What makes Blood River such a compelling read is the fact that the journey becomes an exercise in mental terror, the author skilfully conveying the exhaustion of six weeks on tenterhooks, wondering what might happen just around the next bend.’’
“The past meets present in this enthralling travelogue through the depths of the Congo.’’