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 by Michela Wrong X
In The Footsteps of Mr Kurtz by Michela Wrong
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Apr 2001, 336 pages
    Paperback:
    Jun 2002, 368 pages

    Genres

  • Rate this book


Buy This Book

About this Book

Book Summary

"Provocative, touching, and sensitively written ... an eloquent, brilliantly researched account and a remarkably sympathetic study of a tragic land". "This book will become a classic"

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" articles
  • 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 $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year.
  • More about membership!
  • award image

Reviews

BookBrowse Review

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

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.

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

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.

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.

Reader Reviews

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • 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 $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year.
  • More about membership!

Readalikes

Readalikes Full readalike results are for members only

More books by Michela Wrong

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

  • Bonobo Handshake jacket

    Bonobo Handshake

    by Vanessa Woods

    Published 2011

    About this book

    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.

  • Blood River jacket

    Blood River

    by Tim Butcher

    Published 2009

    About this book

    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.

Non-members are limited to two results. Become a member
Search Readalikes again
How we choose readalikes
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • 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 $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year.
  • More about membership!

Join BookBrowse

Become a Member and discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten.

Find out more

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket
    The Dutch House
    by Ann Patchett

    The Dutch House is my introduction to Ann Patchett, which, after reading it, surprises me. I had ...

  • Book Jacket: Nights When Nothing Happened
    Nights When Nothing Happened
    by Simon Han
    A quiet atmosphere of dread permeates Simon Han's subdued debut novel Nights When Nothing Happened. ...
  • Book Jacket: Take It Back
    Take It Back
    by Kia Abdullah
    In Kia Abdullah's novel Take It Back, sexual violence advisor Zara Kaleel becomes involved in a case...
  • Book Jacket: Dark, Salt, Clear
    Dark, Salt, Clear
    by Lamorna Ash
    Named after Lamorna Cove in her mother's rural home county of Cornwall (located in southwestern ...

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    The Mystery of Mrs. Christie
    by Marie Benedict

    The real-life disappearance of Agatha Christie is perhaps her greatest mystery of all.

    Reader Reviews
  • Book Jacket

    The Fortunate Ones
    by Ed Tarkington

    An engrossing story of class, love, and loyalty for fans of Kevin Wilson's Nothing to See Here.

    Reader Reviews
Book Club Discussion
Book Jacket
Waiting for the Night Song
by Julie Carrick Dalton
A startling and timely debut about friendships forged in childhood and ruptured by the high price of secrets.
Win This Book!
Win The House on Vesper Sands

The House on Vesper Sands by Paraic O'Donnell

Introducing a detective duo for the ages who unlock the secrets of a startling Victorian mystery.

Enter

Wordplay

Solve this clue:

T T T Light F

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

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

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.