Summary and book reviews of In The Footsteps of Mr Kurtz by Michela Wrong

In The Footsteps of Mr Kurtz

Living on the Brink of Disaster in Mobutu's Congo

By Michela Wrong

In The Footsteps of Mr Kurtz
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • Hardcover: Apr 2001,
    336 pages.
    Paperback: Jun 2002,
    368 pages.

    Publication Information

  • Rate this book


Buy This Book

About this Book

Book Summary

He was known as "the Leopard," and for the thirty-two years of his reign Mobutu Sese Seko, president of Zaire, showed all the cunning of his namesake, seducing Western powers, buying up the opposition, and dominating his people with a devastating combination of brutality and charm. While the population was pauperized, he plundered the country's copper and diamond resources, downing pink champagne in his jungle palace like some modern-day reincarnation of Joseph Conrad's crazed station manager.

Michela Wrong, a correspondent who witnessed firsthand Mobutu's last days, traces the rise and fall of the idealistic young journalist who became the stereotype of an African despot. Engrossing, highly readable, and as funny as it is tragic, her book assesses how Belgium's King Leopold, the CIA, and the World Bank all helped to bring about the disaster that is now the Democratic Republic of Congo. If, in this poignant account, the villains are the "Big Vegetables" (Les Grosses Légumes) -- the fat cats who benefited from Mobutu's largesse -- the heroes are the ordinary citizens trapped in a parody of a state. Living in the shadow of a disintegrating nuclear reactor, where banknotes are not worth the paper they are printed on, they have turned survival into an art form. For all its valuable insights into Africa's colonial heritage and the damage done by Western intervention, In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz is ultimately a celebration of the irrepressible human spirit.

From The Introduction

The feeling struck home within seconds of disembarking.

When the motor-launch deposited me in the cacophony of the quayside, engine churning mats of water hyacinth as it turned to head back across the brown expanse of oily water that was the River Zaire, I was hit by the sensation that so unnerves first-time visitors to Africa. It is that revelatory moment when white, middle-class Westerners finally understand what the rest of humanity has always known--that there are places in this world where the safety net they have spent so much of their lives erecting is suddenly whipped away, where the right accent, education, health insurance and a foreign passport --all the trappings that spell 'It Can't Happen to Me'--no longer apply, and their well-being depends on the condescension of strangers......

Chapter One

You can check out any time you like,
but you can never leave



Kinshasa, 17 May 1997

Dear Guest,

Due to the events that have ...

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!
  • award image

Reviews

BookBrowse

There aren't many current affairs/history books that have kept me up late turning more and more pages - but this one did. Read this if you're interested in learning about the world past your own doorstep and, in particular, if you enjoyed Barbara Kingsolver's Poisonwood Bible (set in the Belgian Congo/Zaire between the 1960s and 1990s).  

Media Reviews
The Economist

A brilliant account of Africa's most extraordinary dictator ... This book will become a classic.

Financial Times

A superb book ... the absorbing, witty, and wryly observed account of Mobutu's reign and collapse.

Sunday Times

Provocative, touching, and sensitively written ... an eloquent, brilliantly researched account and a remarkably sympathetic study of a tragic land.

Publishers Weekly

The beauty of this book is that it makes sense of chaos. Without apologizing for [Mobutu's] brutal regime, Wrong explains how the cold war dictator used a mixture of terror and charisma to maintain his hold on the country for three decades. [W]hen Wrong uses her keen eye to describe contemporary life in Congo as in her portrayal of the handicapped businessmen's association the streets of this now-wretched nation come alive.

Library Journal

This is a terrific if disheartening book. A foreign correspondent and eyewitness to the demise of Mobutu Sese Seko's Zaire in 1997, Wrong combines travelog with astute political analysis. In lively prose, she traces the country's dysfunction to its history of permitting outsiders to exploit its wealth of natural resources, including diamonds, timber, and oil.

Booklist

[Wrong] draws parallels between Mobutu's oppressive regime and the colonialism of King Leopold II of Belgium. In Leopold and Mobutu alike, Wrong sees manifestations of the power-crazed Mr. Kurtz in Conrad's Heart of Darkness. A riveting inspection of the legacy of European colonialism in Africa.

Washington Post Book World

Wholly unsentimental ... Wrong gets it right ... [a] chillingly amusing cautionary tale.

The New Yorker

[A] fascinating book ... a stinging portrait of the country's despair under Mobutu.

Reader Reviews
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Readalikes

Readalikes Full readalike results are for members only

If you liked In The Footsteps of Mr Kurtz, try these:

  • Blood River jacket

    Blood River

    by Tim Butcher

    Published Feb 2013

    More about this book

    Read Reviews

    An utterly absorbing narrative that chronicles Tim Butcher’s forty-four-day journey along the Congo River, Blood River is an unforgettable story of exploration and survival.

  • Bonobo Handshake jacket

    Bonobo Handshake

    by Vanessa Woods

    Published Feb 2013

    More about this book

    Read Reviews

    A young woman follows her fiancé to war-torn Congo to study extremely endangered bonobo apes - who teach her a new truth about love and belonging.

Non-members are limited to two results. Become a member


Search Readalikes again
How we choose readalikes
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!
Member Benefits

Join Now!

Check the advantages!
Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year

    •  
    • FREE
    • MEMBER
    • Range of media reviews for each book
    • Excerpts of all featured books
    • Author bios, interviews and pronunciations
    • Browse by genre
    • Book club discussions
    • Book club advice and reading guides
    • BookBrowse reviews and "beyond the book" back-stories
    •  
    • Reviews of notable books ahead of publication
    •  
    • Free books to read and review (US Only)
    •  
    • Browse for the best books by time period, setting & theme
    •  
    • Read-alike suggestions for thousands of books and authors
    •  
    • 'My Reading List" to keep track of your books
    •  

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Gemini
    Gemini
    by Carol Cassella
    How good is Gemini, Carol Cassella's book about a Seattle intensive care physician who becomes ...
  • Book Jacket: The Goldfinch
    The Goldfinch
    by Donna Tartt
    Winner of the 2014 Pulitzer for Fiction.

    Her canvas is vast. To frame a story about art, love and ...
  • Book Jacket: Toms River
    Toms River
    by Dan Fagin
    Winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Nonfiction

    In Toms River, investigative journalist Dan Fagin ...

First Impressions

Members read and review books ahead
of publication. See what they think
in First Impressions!

Books that
expand your
horizons.

Visitors can view a lot of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only

Find out more.

Book Discussions
Book Jacket

The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry
by Gabrielle Zevin

Published Apr. 2014

Join the discussion!

  1.  170The Weight of Blood:
    Laura McHugh
  2.  143Happier at Home:
    Gretchen Rubin

All Discussions

Who Said...

Discovery consists of seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what nobody has thought.

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!

Word Play

Solve this clue:

P Your O C

and be entered to win..

Books thatinspire you.Handpicked.

Books you'll stay up all night reading; books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, books that will expand your mind and inspire you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.