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on 16 May 2013
Nine years is too long to wait to read this book. That's how long it sat on my shelf waiting its turn but when I started to read it I was totally gripped.

Jeffrey Tayler is an American living in Moscow with his girlfriend Tatyana. He left her there to go to travel solo down the Congo in a pirogue. He was going through very early on-set mid-life crisis, or perhaps a late coming of age. Whatever the cause of the internal turmoil he somehow thought he could deal with it and prove himself again by canoeing down the Congo. If that sounds a bit corny, don't worry, despite its motivation the journey and the manner in which he told the story far exceeded my expectations.

He starts his trip in Brazzaville across the river from the high-rise alluring sight of Kinshasa. After some weeks of chilling and learning in Congo-Brazzaville he heads across the Congo River into Zaire (as it was then). The first half of the book is taken up by the journey upriver to Kisangani, 'the bend on the river' the last upriver navigable port. He get there by barge under the protection of 'The Colonel'. On the way he buys a pirogue and after a very brief stay in Kisangani he sets off early one morning with a guide called 'Desi' back down the river, going with the flow.

It needs a brave soul to think of taking on the Congo, when they don't really understand what they are likely to be up against. When Tayler arrives in Kinshasa he begins to discover and understand the enormity of the task to which he has committed himself. Still he went through with it but whether that was brave or foolhardy is a matter of opinion.

The book is packed with descriptive and evocative descriptions of the river and its environs and I will end with a quotation. 'A brimstone dawn was breaking as were preparing to leave Mbandaka. There was no rain, but from every tree-crenellated horizon lightning bolts tore to earth, splitting goblins of mist.' There is much more in this vein.

In the end the journey was a life changing experience for him, he went back to Moscow and married Tatyana. Wise move.
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on 6 November 2014
I, Melachi ibn Amillar, being of unsound mind and body, did read "Facing the Congo" by Jeffrey Tayler (2000), in October 2014, mainly on the Northern Line. It is the story of his trip up the Congo, and then down from Kisangani in a local canoe. I was a bit puzzled to find myself halfway through the book without him having stepped in the canoe, but the mystery is solved if you paddle through to the end! He has a taste for the purple sentence, the first of the book being "The squawks of parrots filtered down into the black well of sleep and slowly called me up into the lighter realms of wakefulness", which is all you need to know, really. And there is occasional pontification, concluding: "I had exploited Zaire as a playground on which to solve my own rich-boy existential dilemmas". Well, there are worse ways to exploit Zaire. But it is not all that bad, with some memorable characters (I would have liked to know more about the "Colonel") and in fact gets quite exciting towards the end!
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on 31 May 2013
I enjoyed reading this book and ended up relating to the author and his experiences even though I've never visited the Congo. I think it was because Tayler happily admitted he didn't really know what he was doing most of the time and that he was scared senseless by what he was confronted with. Along the way Tayler meets a host of different and interesting characters who share or touch his journey to varying degrees. Ultimately the fact that Tayler doesn't succeed in completing his planned journey is irrelevant and merely underlines that the journey is often more important than the final destination. If your looking for deep political, economic and social analysis of events in the Congo then this is not really the book for you. However if your looking for good travel writing without pomposity or heroics then you could do far worse than read "Facing the Congo",
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on 22 January 2003
This is a very well written book and Jeffrey Tayler's style is very well suited to those people who love to travel. Looking at some other reviews, they criticise the lack of description and 'travel tips' in these types of books - they are greatly missing the point. Travelling, like Jeffrey Tayler does, with little thought prior and a spirit of 'where will I end up', is the stuff great travellers are made of.
A great amount of his book is focused on people he meets and his experiences - this is very refreshing and the book reads like he is telling an old friend of his adventure. Leave the tips and descriptions for Lonley Planet, and read this book for this guy's fantastic ability to describe his rather reckless journey down a massive and dangerous jungle river!
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on 12 January 2008
I really would recommend this book to anyone interested in adventure travel.

Jeffrey Tayler is an accomplished writer who brings alive his travels. There's a good balance between describing the place he is visiting, the people he is with and the real sense of danger that he faces.

I couldn't put it down.
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on 17 August 2015
Jeffrey Tayler speaks fluently several languages and here, on the Congo, he quickly learned their tongue, Lingala. His command of language transfers easily to his prose in this excellently written, detailed, and enjoyable adventure. My only gripe is that it lacks humour.
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on 7 June 2001
A compelling and descriptive account of the authors attempt to navigate the mighty Congo river. The journey is undertaken amid much soul searching and is attempted without mechanical assistance. One must admire the author for the way he learns to handle the corrupt Zairean authorities, but this admiration is tempered with great sadness for the everyday struggles of the Zairean people. The writing is excellent, if a little dramatic in places. All in all, a very good effort.
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on 5 February 2008
Plus- The journey up and down the congo river is an interesting one detailed with observation and anaedotes, it would appeal to those who like travel stories.
Minus- Lack of meaning of his travel turns into an escapism, failed to dig deep into the heart of congo people and tell us their story.

Jeffrey Tayler, an American lives in Moscow, sensing his under-achievement and loss of purpose and direction, to quote his word 'The wanderlust that had impelled me to travel happily throughout my twenties had made me a terrible misfit in my thirties' Hence laid his decision to take some action, to travel, and he come upon Congo.

Then started the narrative from preparation to embarking his journey up the Congo river, from the rather peaceful Central African Republic to the eventful and dangerous Congo, with abundant stories of corruption, cannibalism, war, killing, expat life of diamond dealing, etc.

However, the fact that it is well written only qualifies the book as a standard travel story, a good narratives without meanings, it does not demonstrate his courage (though it demonstrate his rationale on safety precaution), does not deliver new insights nor offer us a new perspective on the lives of congo river. The story are dim throughout the book, and it does not answer any of question.
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on 11 May 2001
At thirty, African woman in search of direction, I picked up this book with great interest. I reluctantly turned the last page within two days. Amazing, moving and funny, so true. I couldn't recommend this book enough.
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on 9 February 2004
Sitting in the bar of the Locarno Hotel in Rome back in Nov. 2003, taking a break from La Dolce Vita with an espresso and an guidebook, I became aware of an interesting conversation between an American and some Italian journalists(?) going on at a neighbouring table. The American told tales of Russia, Morocco and the Congo, of struggles with bureaucracy and imminent dangers. This unlikely looking traveller (think accountant, management consultant), was softly spoken and I was unable to catch his name but a few weeks later, a quick search with the details I remembered, proved the power of googling with a name returned within 0.64 seconds.
'Facing the Congo' arrived days later and was soon devoured. It is a gripping piece of travel writing, sometimes fascinating and often tragic. Mr Tayler throws himself into the Congo (splash), experiencing the struggles of the locals but making acquaintances rather than friends and realising he could never be other than an outsider. Although, ultimately an heroic failure not a Hollywood ending, this gripping journey is more comfortably taken in a reading room than in a dugout canoe.
Highly recommended.
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