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Chasing the Devil: A Journey Through Sub-Saharan Africa in the Footsteps of Graham Greene [Hardcover]

Tim Butcher
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Atlas; 1 edition (13 Sep 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1935633295
  • ISBN-13: 978-1935633297
  • Product Dimensions: 21.1 x 14.5 x 3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,264,275 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Tim Butcher is a British best-selling author and explorer whose books blend history with travel.

His latest, The Trigger, tells the story of the young man who sparked the First World War a hundred years ago by shooting dead Archduke Franz Ferdinand on a street corner in Sarajevo. Tim trekked across Bosnia and part of Serbia on the trail of history's greatest assassin, Gavrilo Princip, making a number of discoveries missed by a century of historians.

His first book, Blood River - A Journey To Africa's Broken Heart, told the story of an epic solo journey through the Congo. Translated into six languages, it topped the Sunday Times best-seller list in Britain and was shortlisted for various awards from the Samuel Johnson Prize in London to the Ryszard Kapuściński Award in Warsaw.

For his second, Chasing The Devil, he walked for 350 miles through Liberia along a trail blazed by a whisky-sozzled Graham Greene in 1935. He discovered, among other things, that Greene's life was saved by his indomitable but unsung cousin, Barbara Greene. The book made it onto the longlist for the George Orwell

A former foreign correspondent with The Daily Telegraph, Tim specialised in covering awkward places at awkward times: Kurdistan under attack in 1991 by Saddam Hussein, Sarajevo during the Bosnian War of the 1990s, the Allied attack on Iraq in 2003, Israel's 2006 clash with Hizbollah in southern Lebanon among other crises.

He was awarded the 2013 Mungo Park Medal for exploration by the Royal Scottish Geographical Society and in 2010 received an honorary doctorate from the University of Northampton for services to writing. Born in 1967 he is based in Cape Town with his family.

For more details, pictures and contact details please go to: https://www.facebook.com/timbobutcher

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars complete 4 Jan 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Chasing the Devil is a more complete read than Blood River, Tim Butcher's account of a journey down the Congo river. I enjoyed both enormously, but the Sierra Leone and Liberia story is more even paced and moves satisfyingly towards its natural conclusion. There is a good mix of description of landscapes infrequently visited, comparison with Graham Greene's identical itinerary in the mid 1930s and observation of social anthropology. Butcher's theories on the extent to which local hierarchies and rituals in rural Liberia conflict with ambitions for modern statehood make interesting reading and provide a refreshing counterpoint to the more ubiquitous hypotheses on colonialism. As with Blood River, the only enhancement would be more illustrations.
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Amazon.com: 4.6 out of 5 stars  19 reviews
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A first-rate account of Liberia and Sierra Leone -- both today and when Graham Greene traversed them 16 Sep 2011
By R. M. Peterson - Published on Amazon.com
In 1935 Graham Greene, accompanied by his cousin Barbara, walked across the jungles of inner Liberia and then wrote about the trek. "Journey Without Maps" was Greene's first travel book, and it proved to be a minor classic. Seventy-four years later (in 2009), Tim Butcher, accompanied by a friend, re-traced Greene's journey, and wrote about it. CHASING THE DEVIL is Butcher's book, and it too is first rate.

Butcher started his journey, as did Greene, in Freetown, Sierra Leone. He took bus transportation across Sierra Leone to the northeast corner of the country, where it adjoins Liberia. By foot, he then followed Greene's trail, across the top of Liberia, with one stretch cutting through an extruding tip of Guinea, to the St. John's River, which he then paralleled south-westerly down to the Atlantic - a total of about 350 miles. Most nights he stayed in jungle villages and most meals consisted of native food, typically rice and stringy chicken meat. The trek took about one month.

In CHASING THE DEVIL, Butcher deftly moves back and forth among five general topics: Graham Greene and his 1935 journey; Butcher's 2009 trek; anecdotes from Butcher's previous experiences in West Africa, largely as a war correspondent for the "Daily Telegraph" of London; the history of Sierra Leone and Liberia, including the unspeakable mayhem and bloodshed of the civil and tribal wars that engulfed the countries between 1980 and 2003; and current life and conditions in the two countries. Butcher's discussions of all five subjects are educational and engaging.

The book touches on such diverse matters as the Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary in Sierra Leone (including an incident in which the chimpanzees escaped and killed one hapless man); the diamond trade of Sierra Leone (on which the movie "Blood Diamond" is based); the Guinea worm (a parasite that can grow up to three feet long in human limbs); the prevalent practice of female genital mutilation (which in West Africa is independent of Islam); and the pervasive West African devils, around which bush societies or devil societies are structured - societies that even today engage in ritualistic killings and cannibalism.

The "devil" of the book's title refers to this West African sorcerer, not to - as I first surmised - Graham Greene. Nonetheless, Butcher did chase Graham Greene, and not just by following his footsteps across Liberia. He did some impressive detective work into Greene's 1935 trip, establishing that Greene was on an investigative mission of sorts for the Anti-Slavery and Aborigines Protection Society, which wanted to look into rumors of renewed slave-trading in the interior of Liberia. And, touchingly, in two different villages during his trip Butcher encountered an elderly man who remembered Graham Greene and his female cousin coming out of the jungle seventy-four years earlier.

The book helpfully includes maps and photographs. I did find a few nits to pick, but only one is worth mentioning, and that one is addressed to the publisher Atlas. As printed (hard-cover American edition), the page margins, especially at the bottom, are far too parsimonious. It gives the book, visually, a cramped and crowded feel - all to save ten to twenty total pages and, what, maybe twenty-five cents? The text deserves better presentation. I have read dozens of books about Africa, and CHASING THE DEVIL is one of the best.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The More Things Change... 1 Oct 2011
By booknblueslady - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Having read Tim Butcher's first book Blood River about his journey through the Democratic Republic of the Congo after the war, I was delighted to read that he had a second book called Chasing the Devil which would follow Graham Greene's route through Sierra Leone and Liberia which Greene described in his Journey Without Maps. As with the Democratic Republic of the Congo, both Sierra Leone and Liberia have been recently affected by war with Liberia's civil war spilling into and devastating Sierra Leone. Butcher had spent time as a reporter in both countries covering the wars and following Greene's route would provide an opportunity to assess the impacts of the war on the countryside.

During the time Butcher covered the war in Sierra Leone journalists he knew, Kurt Schork and Miquel Gil Moreno were killed during an attack and a third Yannis Behrakis survived. In describing the attack to Tim Butcher Yannis says:

" 'I took a long time off after it happened and of course there was a lot of questioning about the job, ' Yannis had said as we finished talking. "But if you've been there yourself, you know what it is like doing this work. If you are the sort of person who is good at this job you are the sort of person who would most likely go down that road. You just have to remember the part that luck plays and that in many ways the best of us are just the luckiest of us. I got back to work on the ninth of September 2001 and two days later the twin towers came down in new York. Since then, I haven't really stopped."

Following Greene's journey Butcher takes a bus through Sierra Leone and then walks through the Liberia jungle just as Greene did. This was a grueling, exhausting experience but Butcher came to appreciate the jungle more than Green appeared to:

"Like almost all other early explorers in Liberia, the Greenes soon tired of its jungle. The fuggy, closed-in embrace of the forest came to irritate them and throughout their books about the journey they complained about being bored, even stifled by the jungle. In a short story called ' A Chance for Mr Lever' that was set in West Africa, Graham Greene would write of 'the drab forest ' as an unkempt garden with '..nature dying around you, the shriveling of the weeds'. But on that mountain traverse to Zigida I felt completely different. I found the bush exciting and enthralling, a place of majesty and mystery.

Butcher is exceptional at providing context to the places he travels through. The reader is given a snapshot of the people, the land and the history, which gives the story more meaning. As in Blood River, he meets many good decent people who are willing to assist him during his trip. Many of these people have undergone great personal tragedies during the wars. He is lucky to be traveling with two such men, Johnson Boie who walks with Butcher across Liberia and Mr. Omaru, who transports his belongings from village to village by motorbike.

Butcher's impressions of the changes to the countries since the wars and since Greene's journey in the 1930's provide valuable insight to this little known part of the world. I believe that this is a valuable book for anyone interested in knowing more about Sierra Leone and Liberia.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Chasing the Devil, but also explaining the ignored 14 Mar 2012
By Les Fearns - Published on Amazon.com
Like Tim Butcher's previous "Blood River", "Chasing the Devil" sees the author trekking through Africa's rainforest and remote hinterlands. Last time it was following Stanley's route of 1874-77 down the Congo from central Africa to the Atlantic, this time he walks across Liberia using a route taken by Graham Green in the 1930's. He has a strong personal reason for this region of travel. He was chief war correspondent for the Daily Telegraph during the wars at the turn of the century and the "search" in the title is as much a personal search to find closure with the events of that conflict as much as an exploration of how far the area has recovered since then and/or changed since the time of the Greene's.

Butcher takes the reader across Sierra Leone and the Gambia as well as Liberia, using his travels to create a framework to look at both the background of recent strife and the context of native tribal belief. In this he does a service in making the current and past problems of the region far clearer and immediate to the general reader perhaps not too aware of west Africa. The culture of "dash", tribal religion and traditional beliefs and the horrendous history of recent violence are all part of this journey as is the depth of forlorn poverty in the villages and towns he encounters.

What did surprise me was the fact that such a walk was possible at all given the climate and general deprivation. It nearly killed Graham Greene and he had a colonial style caravan of bearers and equipment (including hammocks and food hampers). Butcher was a party of four effectively: himself, a walking companion, a local guide (whom, in a depressing evaluation in the final chapter, he describes as his African "Everyman": an African who had heeded the advice of experts to limit family size, seek education, be industrious - but who had gained little from this through the greed and incompetence of others) and a motorcyclist who rode ahead each day with the rucksacks. Avoiding the roads travelled by the motorbike they used the remains of rain forest paths walking in the humidity and heat. Their diet becomes so limited that when, near the end of the journey they do have a western style meal in the canteen of a modern European mining company, Butcher is ill.

The account is at its best when relating events along the walk to the history, both recent and not too recent. Apart from the start and finish the Greene connection is at times of less importance. Overall this is a good read, with the added advantage of teaching the reader something about a part of the world usually ignored elsewhere - and telling a story of recent times that needs to be told.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Loved it 24 Nov 2012
By N. Anderson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I'm a recent fan of Mr. Butcher's writing. Having been impressed with his book on the Congo, I picked this one up looking for more of the same. I was not disappointed.

While in the previous work Butcher was following Henry Stanley's wandering through central Africa, in this volume he follows another famous predecessor, Graham Greene. In 1935, Greene and his cousin Barbara walked through Sierra Leone and Liberia for reasons that are still unclear, but probably a mixture of adventure seeking, humanitarian research, and scouting for British Intelligence. Whatever the intentions, the journey changed both of those travelers lives. Similarly to the previous work, this one is exhaustively researched, with intermittent discourses on the history of the various villages and town they pass through. On two occasions he actually meets people who met Greene, bringing the story full circle.

The devil in the book's title is the central character in the central African bush societies, a more morally complex character than the pitchfork-wielding simplified character from more modern western understanding. And understanding this character, and the effects he has on the lives of those who eke out a living in the poorest countries on earth, proves central to understanding these countries, and why they remain the way they are.

I am consistently impressed with the level of understanding Mr. Butcher brings to his writing and travels. While providing the armchair traveller with vicarious experience, he also inspires those who would follow. While I'm not certain my next international vacation will require years of planning and research the ways his do, I am motivated to read much more extensively than the guidebook introductions we all peruse before journeying. Mr. Butcher's writing shows just how shallow such an understanding can be. They have also shown me the beauty and tragedy of an area of the world I previously had no interest in, and I plan to travel to Africa within the next year partly from this newly sparked interest. And Mr. Butcher, if you're in need of a travelling companion again, I'm available.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Exciting and Literary! 11 April 2013
By BT Invictus - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Since this is probably the closest I'll get to trekking through the Liberian hinterlands, I relished every moment of reading this book. A vicarious adventure through the jungles of West Africa would be exciting enough, but what makes this book especially satisfying is Butcher's quest to follow the exact trail blazed by Graham Greene and his cousin Barbara back in 1935, an expedition described in Greene's Journey Without Maps, published in 1936. In pursuing the Greenes' footsteps, Butcher hopes to better understand Sierra Leone and Liberia, a region of West Africa that he calls "fascinating yet unsettling" and to learn about the Catholic writer's "more earthy" side (25). He does both brilliantly.

Here's what I appreciate most about Chasing the Devil. There are a few moments in the book where the author either encounters an elderly African who remembers the Greenes' visit or an aid worker who, perhaps, succeeded someone who met the Greenes during their visit. You just can't help but be thrilled by these fortuitous moments; they just make the world seem smaller. Another point of interest is the author's fascination with secret religious societies in West Africa, a theme reflected in the book's title. Butcher suggests that understanding these secret religious societies, ruled by a hierarchy of "devils" - masked men who masquerade as spiritual beings and often conduct bizarre and inhumane rituals - is the key to understanding Africa's larger struggles. He writes: "It is, I believe, the failure...to dominate over atomistic tribal interests that has led to so many of modern Africa's problems. In the case of Liberia, with twenty recognizably different tribal groups and so many more sub-groups, it is the failure to force the devil to cede his power that has undermined the country's development and made it prone to civil strife and, ultimately, war" (273). And, lastly, worth noting is the book's beautiful multi-genre nature. Peppered throughout the narrative are fascinating images of the Greenes, historical clippings, sketches of maps and pictures of the author at various points where the Greenes also found themselves. The inclusion of these artifacts contribute greatly to the richness of the book.

This is one of those great books that stands at the intersection of history, sociology and travel. After reading his first two books, it's safe to say that I now feel about Tim Butcher the way I have long felt about Jon Krakauer. He could write a book about his adventures in Ty Ty, Georgia, and I would purchase it without a thought. And that really says something because, trust me, Ty Ty pretty much sucks.
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