Summary and book reviews of Blood River by Tim Butcher

Blood River

The Terrifying Journey Through the World's Most Dangerous Country

by Tim Butcher

Blood River
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Oct 2008, 384 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2009, 384 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Fiona Lorrain

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Book Summary

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.

Published to rave reviews in the United Kingdom and named a Richard & Judy Book Club selection—the only work of nonfiction on the 2008 list— Blood River is the harrowing and audacious story of Tim Butcher’s journey in the Congo and his retracing of renowned explorer H. M. Stanley’s famous 1874 expedition in which he mapped the Congo River.

When Daily Telegraph correspondent Tim Butcher was sent to Africa in 2000 he quickly became obsessed with the legendary Congo River and the idea of recreating Stanley’s legendary journey along the three-thousand-mile waterway. Despite warnings that his plan was suicidal, Butcher set out for the Congo’s eastern border with just a rucksack and a few thousand dollars hidden in his boots. Making his way in an assortment of vehicles, including a motorbike and a dugout canoe, helped along by a cast of characters from UN aid workers to a pygmy rights advocate, he followed in the footsteps of the great Victorian adventurers.

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.

Michel was at work in his radio station, a standard-issue UN container at the garrison headquarters built in the ruin of a Belgian-era cotton factory on the outskirts of Kalemie. He was deep in thought, trying to work out how to deal with an imminent public-relations crisis: peacekeepers in Kalemie and elsewhere across the Democratic Republic of Congo had been caught paying local girls, under the age of consent, for sex. Michel had just come from a meeting where the scale of the problem had been revealed. He seemed happy for the distraction. I introduced Benoit, an aid worker from Care International, and told him my worries about security. 'Benoit says there are mai-mai [local rebels] all along these tracks. Do you know anyone local who could help me get through?'

'There is one person I know who dares to travel regularly through the bush. He is a pygmy and runs a small aid group here in town. His name is Georges Mbuyu.'

Benoit ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

The title, Blood River, speaks volumes for the history of the region that Butcher describes as 'Africa's broken heart'. Interweaving anecdotes and historical accounts from earlier colonial explorers (such as H.M. Stanley and David Livingstone), Butcher portrays a Congo that is mostly forgotten, misunderstood, little known and destroyed.   (Reviewed by Fiona Lorrain).

Full Review Members Only (720 words).

Media Reviews

Library Journal

What Butcher's tale lacks in political analysis is redeemed by the honesty of his writing and his genuine attempt to bring international interest to the Congo and the struggles of its citizens.

Publishers Weekly

Butcher's story is a full-throated lament for large-scale human potential wasted with no reasonable end in sight.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. After [Butcher's] trip, so eloquently described here, he may be the only Western journalist with such a handle on that vast region . . . A brilliant account of a broken land, one that certainly deserves the attention this excellent book brings.

The Guardian

Blood River is a gripping, passionate and deeply disturbing portrait of central Africa today. In its final pages, Butcher writes of his extraordinary journey, I "touched the heart of Africa and found it broken". We can weep for this betrayed, failed land, but please don't go there.

Author Blurb William Boyd
The day of the solitary intrepid traveler is not over. Tim Butcher's extraordinary, audacious journey through the Congo is worthy of the great nineteenth-century explorers. Completely enthralling but also a thoughtful and sobering portrait of modern Africa.

Author Blurb John Le Carre
Quite superb ... a masterpiece.

Author Blurb Alexander McCall Smith
A remarkable, fascinating book by a courageous and perceptive writer. One of the most exciting books to emerge from Africa in recent years.

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Beyond the Book

For much of it's length, the Congo River forms the border between The Republic of Congo and The Democratic Republic of Congo (map of Africa).  Both countries and the river are named for the early settlers to the area known as the Kongo people, and for the Kingdom of Kongo which controlled much of the area between about 1400 and 1914:


The Republic of Congo
Also known as Congo-Brazzerville or the Congo, The Republic of Congo was a former French colony which gained independence in 1960 and currently has a population of a little over four million.  From 1970 to 1992 it was run as a Marxist-Leninist single-party state, having signed a twenty-year friendship pact with the Soviet Union. A democratically elected ...

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