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81 of 91 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gripping and relevant
As a fan of writers like Jonathan Raban and Simon Winchester, who weave historical narrative into their own personal quests and journeys, I sent for Blood River after catching the tail end of a radio interview in which Tim Butcher described the various strands which run in parallel through his book.

I found it a compelling and satisfying read. There is the...
Published on 16 Mar 2008 by Michael Faulkner

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars It Won't Get The Juices Flowing But It's Okay
If you are interested in the Congo and would like to read a book that offers some okay feedback, then by all means read Blood River. If, however, you've been daydreaming about heading off to the Congo (or similar) and need a push, you'll need to look elsewhere. I mean, here we are, in the heart of the tropics, in the Congo, yet not once did I feel any great sense of...
Published 13 months ago by Hair Bear


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81 of 91 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gripping and relevant, 16 Mar 2008
By 
Michael Faulkner "Proofreader|author, The Blu... (Strangford Lough, N. Ireland) - See all my reviews
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As a fan of writers like Jonathan Raban and Simon Winchester, who weave historical narrative into their own personal quests and journeys, I sent for Blood River after catching the tail end of a radio interview in which Tim Butcher described the various strands which run in parallel through his book.

I found it a compelling and satisfying read. There is the central account of the author's apparently impulsive decision to travel, against all advice, through the Republic of Congo in the first place, while it is in an on/off state of civil war; the lives of the equally intrepid Victorian adventurers who went before him; and as backdrop, the grindingly bleak and heartbreaking history of colonial, post colonial and present-day Congo. Three stories for the price of one - four if you count the heavy-hearted journey through the Congo in the late 1950's, after disappointment in love, of the author's mother.

Butcher's prose style, as you'd expect from a seasoned journalist, is crisp, economical and forward-flowing; but he is not afraid to share his vulnerabilities and his (abundantly justified) fear of what might easily have lain ahead at any point on the journey - `objective dangers', as he calls them, over which he had little control. I warmed to him for that, and for his empathy towards the ordinary Congolese he encounters: for me, they are the heroes of the story, helpless victims of an endless cycle of exploitation, violence and political bankruptcy.

Blood River is a gripping story well told; but beyond that, unlike some have-the-adventure-to-write-the-book yarns, it is highly relevant and by rights should tweak the conscience of those of us in the developed world who looked the other way.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars It Won't Get The Juices Flowing But It's Okay, 7 Aug 2013
If you are interested in the Congo and would like to read a book that offers some okay feedback, then by all means read Blood River. If, however, you've been daydreaming about heading off to the Congo (or similar) and need a push, you'll need to look elsewhere. I mean, here we are, in the heart of the tropics, in the Congo, yet not once did I feel any great sense of adventure. This is in part due to Butcher's matter-of-fact style of writing -- a novelist he will never be. I won't say it's drab, but it just doesn't ever get the juices flowing, and I'm shocked to read that some people think it's "gripping" and that it "moves along at a rollocking pace" (are these people friends of Tim, hoping to help boost the ratings?). Even if you're not particularly bothered about a so-called adventure book having a strong narrative, it's clear that Butcher didn't want to be there in the first place (the second half of the journey he covers by helicopter, and gives the most lame excuse for doing so -- I once read someone else's account of that section and they explained it as the easiest bit). Interesting: reasonably. Adventurous: not at all. A combination of the two would have been ideal.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars excellent read, 1 Jan 2014
By 
Kate O'Brien - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Blood River: A Journey to Africa's Broken Heart (Kindle Edition)
I very much liked the style of the book, mixing historical facts, cultural observation and social commentary with the author's personal experience and emotional reactions to what he experienced on his mammoth task. It is very well written, not at all patronising or superior, and expert without being alienating.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Great Introduction to Africa's Heart, 30 Nov 2012
By 
Frootle (Canterbury, Kent) - See all my reviews
Like many people, I kind of 'knew' the Congo: Heart of Darkness, and the horrors of the Belgian Congo, right? What I hadn't realised was what a mess it still was, and to get a sense of the scale of the potential and the waste. I'm not a big fan of travel writing, and this suffers from some of the usual cliches and ticks of the genre: the fact that a lot of travel is essential dull (how much more can you say about travelling huge distances by canoe/motorbike?), punctuated by humbling moments of epiphany. What saves this book is the history that interweaves the travel, the context, and the sense of perspective it gives. I hadn't realised that the Congo itself was so unnavigable at the moment: this made me aware of the shocking chaos - which can only get worse before it gets better, with the recent news...
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars incredible journey, 3 Nov 2010
By 
A. C. Dickens (Bexhill-on-Sea England) - See all my reviews
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This book is not especially well written - it shows signs of haste and lack of revision. However, this is beside the point. Tim Butcher has given us, at great personal risk, an idea of what life is like in one of the worst countries in the world. Possibly Somalia is worse? Or North Korea? Nah, after reading this book, it has to be Congo.
The author has apparently been for years obsessed with the Congo, and his research was prodigious. The tales from earlier explorers (particularly Stanley) and the litany of disasters and atrocities over the years tell us much about this ill-starred country.
I was pleased that Butcher didn't lazily blame the Belgian colonists, appalling though they were, for Congo's current problems. As he says,quoting Ali the riverboat captain, the British, another disreputable bunch of colonists, gave Malaysia a hard time, but now Malaysia is developing fast.

Butcher was lucky to escape with his skin, but deserved his luck.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars AN AFRICAN JOURNEY, 17 Jun 2014
I am not normally a reader of travel books, but this was a recommendation from a geography website for background reading to the subject. It was an excellent book combining many different strands-Stanley' s journey, the history of colonial Africa, with particular emphasis on -Belgian Congo-Zaire-Democratic Republic of Congo-and the pure adventure of making the journey along the mighty Congo River. Tim Butcher is a journalist so he makes the story interesting, and opens eyes to the state of DRC as it is in the 21st century.
This book is well worth reading to obtain some perspective on the power and greed of the western and developed world from time immemorial, nothing really changes over 150 years, and you can see similar scenarios happening in many different countries to-day, and in very recent history-Kenya-Uganda-Nigeria-Mali-Zimbabwe etc., the problem now seems to be the islamists who are filling the power vacuum created by self indulgent leaders of many African states who failed to create a country with law and order as a pre-requisite for a stable and successful country. The question raised by the book, Why cannot African countries rule successfully.?
A first class read.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bold Down The River, 5 Nov 2011
By 
F Henwood "The bookworm that turned" (London) - See all my reviews
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I didn't like the sound of this book at first, thinking it was an example of macho adventure tourism but I am pleased to say that I was mistaken.

It's true that the author at the outset is driven by a seemingly hubristic ambition: to be the first man (or white man at any rate) to traverse the length of the Congo River since the Victorian explorer Henry Morton Stanley's 1876-77 expedition, which sounds like the sort of thing only a egomaniac with a death wish would undertake. But Butcher is a sober character who carefully assessed and measured the risks beforehand. He could not ultimately have accomplished his feat without the assistance of Congolese on the ground and he accords them the credit due. The snide uttered by one reviewer that the author used dollars the way Stanley used brute force to secure compliance from the locals is ridiculous. Apart from the fact that the author never carried any weapons during the trip, the remark omits to mention that his motorcycle drivers who assisted the author with the first leg refused payment, out of professional pride. Otherwise he did what all journalists do if they want to get close to the ground, using local guides and fixers, entirely legitimate means to go about their trade. There is nothing amiss about that.

By Butcher's own admission, this was an example of ordeal rather than adventure travel but the details of the hardship he experienced are not overdone. They offer you a vivid sense of what it was actually like to do the trip. We don't just get a lucid impression of the hardships of the journey but also the land in which he travels and of the people he meets there. The DRC is the heart of Africa and the Congo River is at the heart of the DRC. And what the river could do for the DRC - stimulating trade commerce and wealth creation - the rest of the DRC could likewise do for Africa. The DRC however is not the beating heart of Africa because the river is the DRC's lifeless heart. This is more than just figurative. Much of the fauna along the river's route has been killed and eaten by desperate locals. There is an eerie silence along the many tracks and paths near the river on which humans travel.

What the author discovers along his travels on the river is the baleful legacy of decades of colonialism, followed by the misrule of corrupt, violent and rapacious local elites since independence in 1960, with the interference of outsiders thrown in for good measure. The author writes, on discovering a railway track that has almost been engulfed by the jungle, that he realised that he was travelling in a country with more of a past than a future, `a place where the hands of the clock spin not forwards, but backwards' (p. 249). The DRC is in free fall to year zero.

There is no light pollution among the Congolese villages. No coke cans or plastic bags litter the banks of the Congo's shore. But this is no idyll. Life is not just hard but hellish. It is hellish not because of the lack of basic facilities but the absence of a proper functioning state. This is what anarchy looks like. Not so much the war of all against all but the war of the strong against the weak, a one-sided conflict if there ever was one. The DRC is for all intents and purposes a country in name only. It is an arena for various warlords and strongmen and their armed retinues to kill, rob and loot. Not only are the people of Congo helpless before their own predatory compatriots, they are also helpless to withstand the assaults of neighboring countries. Until the underlying problems of a lack of accountability and the rule of law are resolved, no amount of money can solve the country's problems. This does not mean that the human spirit is extinguished in the DRC. He salutes the numerous examples of people he meets who have to undertake extraordinary feats just to survive. But they cannot thrive in such circumstances. Those in rich countries who gripe about government ought to read this book and see what the alternative looks like.

But why have such institutions failed to take root? Colonialism cannot be the full answer. It is true that Congo suffered particularly badly from an especially rapacious form of colonial asset stripping in the first decades of Belgian rule. Perhaps 3 million died in conditions of slave labour during the time the then Congo was the personal property of King Leopold. But Asian nations such as South Korea, Taiwan, Indonesia, India, Malaysia and Vietnam have managed to thrive or at least progress in the decades since throwing off colonial rule. But Africa by and large has regressed.

This is a disturbing truth for which there is no easy answer - it is in part the essence of the mystery that is the dark heart of the continent. Butcher offers no easy answers either but this book, combining travelogue with political and social analysis, is to be commended for bringing the reality of tens of millions of Congolese to the attention of a broad readership, a reality that we in the West, at least in part, have helped to create.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars interesting and readable, 26 Mar 2014
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This review is from: Blood River: A Journey to Africa's Broken Heart (Kindle Edition)
I was fascinated by this combination of exploration and historical accounts of Congo. My father was there in the 1930s and it is sad to compare with his account. This book was far more readable than I expected. I recommend it to anyone interested in Aftica.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Travelling dangerously through the DRC, 4 July 2010
I visited the DRC six times between 2001-2004, half my visits were to the rebel held east. I didn't spend the night out of town, except for a few days on the island of Idjwi in Lake Kivu. Rebel activity, robbery, and murder were too high a risk.
Tim Butcher spends several weeks in very dangerous country in eastern DRC in 2004, he travels pillion on a motor bike, by UN boat, dugout canoe.... The book has a good brief history of the Congo as the journey progresses, and also gives an insight into the parlous state of the country nowadays. Well written, exciting, bleak, witty and full of nice portraits of Congolese he meets- and who help him make the journey possible.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Tales from the (very long) River Bank, 20 Mar 2008
By 
tallpete33 (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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This book caught my eye a while back and after hearing a positive radio review also I took the plunge but have mixed feelings about it as a whole.

Butcher knows his history (or how to cram - as he admits) and the passages on Stanley were probably the most enjoyable. If he were to write a book on him, I'd be tempted to buy it. However, trying to recreate Stanley's journey in these times of Discovery channel and National Geographic did not make an exciting read. I knew very little about the region and Belgium's chequered past there; the sections on King Leopold claiming the territory for himself before plundering it on a massive scale afterwards were very enlightening and pretty shocking.

I guess I bought this book looking to enjoy a modern day adventure but it did not materialize as this. Despite very bravely travelling (as quickly as he could) through a lawless and dangerous territory, Butcher's accounts of his journeys were quite dry and lacking in interest. He seemed to form no relationships of note with his travelling companions, taking a rather aloof and humourless stance, perhaps taking his emulation of Stanley too far. His delivery is more Gordon Brown than Palin or McCarthy. Whilst you can only work with the material you're given, his prose seems distant and distracted, certainly not captivating which is a pity given the subject matter.

Overall, it has opened my eyes to this desperate part of Africa's traumas but I just wish he could have added a bit more depth and personality to his writing . . .
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