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46 of 48 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent
Tim Butcher's latest book, Chasing the Devil: The Search for Africa's Fighting Spirit, paints an incredibly vivid and fascinating picture of a continent ravaged by war and violence. After reading his award-winning book Blood River, I couldn't wait to get my hands on Chasing the Devil. Just as Tim in 2004 followed H.M. Stanley's trail through the Congo for Blood River, for...
Published on 5 Sep 2010 by Gini Smith

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars fell flat
I enjoyed blood river and had expectations for this book, but this fell flat. There isn't much told in the book. It is a simple travelogue with little story, investigation or drama. I am not sure why it didn't have the impact of blood river, but it just seemed to fizzle without a bang.
Published 15 months ago by fergus


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46 of 48 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, 5 Sep 2010
Tim Butcher's latest book, Chasing the Devil: The Search for Africa's Fighting Spirit, paints an incredibly vivid and fascinating picture of a continent ravaged by war and violence. After reading his award-winning book Blood River, I couldn't wait to get my hands on Chasing the Devil. Just as Tim in 2004 followed H.M. Stanley's trail through the Congo for Blood River, for his new book, he follows a trail blazed by Graham Greene in 1935. The trek he documents in this book is both courageous and eye-opening. At a time when the world is being, once again, reminded of the atrocities of Charles Taylor's regime (thanks in huge part to Naomi Campbell sadly), Tim's book takes a look at two countries, Sierra Leone and Liberia, which after years of warfare have been left, in many rural places, lawless and unstable. Tim's account of his trip makes a brilliant read. He is an excellent writer and his years as a journalist covering foreign crises has made him a sympathetic and intelligent commentator. It is at once informative, funny and exciting, (the new light he throws on Graham Greene's trip is particulary interesting and often surprising). With his tales of Africa, you feel every blister, every prickle of fear and apprehension, and every feeling of personal achievement, as he embarks on a gruelling journey across two nations that not many of us would be brave enough to visit.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Devil Escapes the Detail, 16 Nov 2011
By 
F Henwood "The bookworm that turned" (London) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
Having just finished Blood River I graduated straight onto this book and wasn't disappointed. The author with a companion and two local guides trekked through three West African countries, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia, following Graham and Barbara Greene's journey some seven decades' before. Again we have the same ingredients that made Blood River such a compelling read for me: a vivid description of the hardships of the journey, the lands he travels in and the people he meets along the way, combined with an illuminating discussion of the historical and political background.

The purpose of Greene's trip was probably an intelligence-gathering mission for the Anti-Slavery society. Liberia was a country set up by `returned' African slaves from the United States in the 19th Century. This didn't stop them from enslaving the native population, a practice systematically undertaken until the 1930s. The ending of slavery did not heal the settler/native divide, which formed the fault line of the recently concluded civil war. Sierra Leone had similar antecedents, initially set up as a coastal colony by the British, consisting of freed slaves, but Butcher doesn't treat the historical background for the conflict in Sierra Leone so well as he does for the war in Liberia. Guinea is barely offered any background at all.

So why did Butcher want to follow in Greene's footsteps? The publisher's blurb is somewhat misleading when it claims that the author walked into `a combat zone'. Acutally, two of these countries are now at peace (albeit a fragile one in Liberia) whereas a third, Guinea, has never known a civil war. Butcher's main reason, and the principal man-made menace that he never encounters face to face (luckily for him) but pervades his entire trek, is that the grip of a traditional belief called Poro, something that is sensed rather than encountered, but which nonetheless strikes genuine terror into his guides who are terrified to venture out after dark on account of it. What is Poro? The author describes it on page 108 as a ritual, whereby humans dressed in magical masks and costumes (of which differing types of devils, not of all them malign, are represented) to enact a ceremony which at once acts as an initiation into adulthood as well as having all of the functions we attribute to traditional beliefs. This is 'the devil' the author chases, as a shorthand for a form of arcane belief, which is not be confused with devil-worship.

But he never catches it - it eludes the author despite his very best efforts to track it down. No wonder - the penalties for divulging the secrets of Poro are gruesome. Even to chance upon a ceremony in the jungle could be fatal. So if the author had really caught it, he might not have lived to tell the tale and write the book. I do not make this observation to caw - I doubt any outsider would fare better and doubtless I would fare the worst. Neither do I mean to say that the book loses anything of its readability or narrative drive - it doesn't. It's just that the author is a little circumspect in his failure to get the measure of Poro but somewhat annoyingly, this does not stop him from making some sweeping pronouncements of how Poro holds Africa back on pages 270 to 272 .The totems and taboo vital for survival in the bush inhibit society in the era of the nation state, he claims. While this may well be true (it's certainly superficially plausible) I don't think the author can make such sweeping judgments when he has only dimly apprehended what Poro actually is. For this reason I have to knock of a star from my ratings.

But having said that, I still thoroughly enjoyed the book. I was entertained, stimulated and informed. What more could you ask for in a book? And I salute Mr. Butcher for another courageous achievement. Whatever will he do next?
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Chasing the Devil, 11 Dec 2010
It's hard to believe that Tim Butcher could come up with a better idea for a book than his journey in the Congo described in Blood River, but in Chasing the Devil, he has managed to not only carry out an amazing trek across one of the most dangerous parts of Africa, but to explore his subject in a depth that I don't think he found in his first book. His trip across Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia not only follows in the footsteps of a trip made by Graham Green and his cousin, Barbara in 1935, it explores current day life, politics and social issues in those countries. Like Greene, Butcher explores the challenges that West Africa faces on foot, in the bush, hearing from a wide variety of people on topics as varied as secret tribal societies (whose leadership cloak themselves in devil costumes) to saving chimpanzees from extinction in war torn Sierra Leone. While Butcher's quest is both personal and dangerous, throughout it he uses his formidable journalistic skills to open up one of the darkest parts of Africa through the words and actions of the people who live there. Ultimately, what shines out from them is that in spite of living through evil times and in the presence of true devils, an essential goodness remains which is a blessing for Butcher travelling through the bush as he, like Blanche Dubois in Streetcar ,is daily reliant on the goodness of strangers to survive and complete his journey.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Chasing the Devil: The Search for Africa's Fighting Spirit, 17 July 2011
I have been fascinated by this book. I knew nothing of Graham Greene's expedition in Sierra Leone and Liberia in 1935. I found Tim Butcher's account of it to be very informative. Throughout his journey he refers to the Greenes' experience at the same point which gives the story a dual dimension and enables intriguing comparisons to be drawn. Although he travelled the route many years after the Greenes, the author often found himself feeling as they did in certain places, for example in Zigida, where both groups sensed an uncomfortable spookiness.

There was evidently huge effort involved in undertaking the trek and in progressing through it under trying conditions. Tim Butcher is very impressive. I admire his fitness and strength, as well as his determination in managing with the heat, dirt and fatigue. I was conscious throughout of his sweat and blisters, which he battled through admirably. It is a wonderful story of great endeavour, as was his "Blood River". In both he shows his great ability to cope. It is a remarkable achievement to have made the journey and also to have explained it so well to his readers.

I am grateful to understand more about what is still in many ways an unknown continent; when I was growing up West Africa was often referred to as the "White Man's grave". It was of real interest to me that the book showed the problem that affects much of Africa, whereby the nation states that were imposed during the 19th century by colonial powers led to a grouping of people that are not necessarily state orientated. It seems there are numerous small, remote and distinct communities throughout Africa that do not relate to one another or the broader concept of nationhood.

It was enlightening to gain an insight into what life is like for the members of these communities, through Tim Butcher sharing his experience of travelling through the forest hinterland in Liberia. The reader learns about the current forces at play, such as the Poro, as well as the background of the wars. The awfulness of what went on, with children being enforced into active warfare and civilians having their hands or arms cut off by the RUF in Sierra Leone, is shocking to read.

What was uplifting was that everywhere the author went there was someone that gave him support and kindness. It is wonderful to know that while a small minority might be violent and cruel the strong majority are not. The people of Sierra Leone and Liberia showed themselves to be friendly, helpful and trustworthy with a fighting spirit that has carried them through the barbarity of war. I am thankful for the knowledge of what a modern African state is like. I have learnt much from this superb book.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars not a walk in the park..., 24 Oct 2010
Having spent his career so far living and working in difficult, dangerous and downright disagreeable parts of the world, Tim Butcher is clearly something of an adrenalin junkie. His latest book, following the footsteps of Graham Greene through Sierra Leone and Liberia, dwells relatively lightly on the potential personal risk and instead sets out to investigate why these countries endured such excrutiatingly agonising civil wars. This book works on at least three levels. Lightly sprinkled with descriptions of discomforts - blisters and boils, rats urine that carries the fatal lassa fever, unrecognisable and inedible chunks of meat to name but a few - it is an excellent piece of travel writing. It is also a literary detective story, in which Mr Butcher retraces Greene's 1935 journey, uncovers its multiple objectives and learns much that demystifies the great author and endears him more to both Butcher and the reader. Not least that he probably wouldn't have survived to tell the tale in Journey Without Maps, had it not been for his redoubtable travelling companion and cousin Barbara. And it is a compelling journalistic account of both the troubled history and uncertain future of two small and unremarked countries, brought alive by the anthropological vignettes he draws of the people he meets and talks to and the places he passes through, slowly absorbing sights, sounds, smells and above all stories. The author has carefully, painstakingly, constructed a single coherent narrative which is exceptional for its sincere and non-judgmental voice. I found it compelling.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Devilishly good, 26 Oct 2010
This review is from: Chasing the Devil: The Search for Africa's Fighting Spirit (Kindle Edition)
I enjoyed 'Chasing the Devil' even more than Butcher's first African adventure, 'Blood River' - perhaps because he meets and writes about such an extraordinary cast of characters as he treks through Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, following a trail blazed in the 1930s by Graham Greene. My favourite has to be the indomitable, if not positively bonkers, Lady Dorothy Mills, who 90 years ago bashed her way through the Liberian jungle on a diet of bananas and foie gras. The survival story of Butcher's fellow war correspondent Yannis Behrakis during an ambush in Sierra Leone in 2000 is in equal parts heartbreaking and astonishing. And Butcher's own journey - chasing not just the folkloric devils in the African bush, but some of his own internal demons too - makes for a page-turning read.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Courageous Book, 29 Aug 2010
Chasing The Devil is a well read, well researched travel book - that is so much more than a travel book (encompassing history and politics too).

The author is both courageous for taking on the dangerous nature of the journey, but so too Tim Butcher writes about Africa in a courageous way, free from political correctness and sentimentality about the continent's past and future.

A gripping book!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Better than before, 26 Oct 2010
By 
Prawn (Norf Lahndan) - See all my reviews
Tim Butcher continues to find a compelling way to render his encounters with Africa. He highlights how the manufacture of history continues to insert itself into our present conception of place and people. He's improved on his previous book, finding a clearer voice. I want to see the trilogy completed with a volume on twenty-first century visitors to Africa. This is good work.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Travel Book of the Year, 29 Aug 2010
Having enjoyed Blood River I was keen to read this follow-up. The author gives us more of the same as his bestselling debut - a mix of history, politics and travelogue - but the journey has a flavour all of its own.
As much as we may consider the author a little mad-cap for taking on such a trip - following in Graham Greene's footsteps in Sierra Leone and Liberia from his book Journey Without Maps - we are grateful again to Mr Butcher for shining a light upon the dark continent.
Chasing The Devil is informative and entertaining.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars fell flat, 20 April 2013
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I enjoyed blood river and had expectations for this book, but this fell flat. There isn't much told in the book. It is a simple travelogue with little story, investigation or drama. I am not sure why it didn't have the impact of blood river, but it just seemed to fizzle without a bang.
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