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Blood River

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24th April 2011, 06:00 PM



Blood River is Tim Butcher, a British journalist who specialises in reporting from war torn countries, account of his attempt to follow H.M Stanley's journey through the Congo.


Butcher researched and spent years trying to find the right time to enter the Congo, to pass through all the red tape and the problems involved in taking such a journey. Once there he faces yet more red tape and problems. He starts off his journey trying to bike up through a region and ends up having to rely on people from various charities and organisations as there simply is no form of public transport or transport for sale. Transport he finds is the biggest problem, with petrol being scarce and his luggage tied to the bikes with old inner tubes. As Butcher moves on we watch him continously tackle this traffic problem which only seems to get worse when he wants to travel down the river.


Butcher also introduces us to a range of characters, some the shifty locals we hear horror stories of when we go on holiday - trying all the tricks of the trade to rip off the closest foreigner. But others are more honest and hard working, from locals to old expats who moved to the Congo when Belgium ruled the land, charity workers to priests come to deliver their message; all of whom played a vital role in keeping his journey going.


Butcher intersperses his journey with the history of the area, focussing on Stanley and Livingstone and the Belgium rule, as well as local moments of civil war and politics. At the start I found that the history far out-weighed his journey but as the book went on a reversal happened.


I enjoyed this read and it certainly gave me something to think about, as the Congo is somewhere which isn't really reported on that widely, or the centre of charity and awareness campaigns like some of its near neighbours.



#2 7th June 2011, 02:06 PM



This is a stunning book. The research alone deserves unparalleled praise, and then the fact that Butcher retraced Stanley's route, at a time when it was arguably a greater trial than for Stanley himself. Sublime



#3 10th July 2011, 04:45 PM



I have seen this book outside a charity shop, I hope it is still there on monday. It is a great book and I am now wanting to read it again.

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I have just finished this. 

It - the book and the journey - is certainly an amazing achievement, and the book is a very good read, melding the history of the Congo with his journey in the footsteps of Stanley. I liked the fact that he was pretty critical of Stanley and the years of Belgian rule which he unleashed.


But, with regard to his journey, I still thought: why?


Knowledge of the current state of the Congo can hardly be limited. As well as the many aid workers and missionaries, there must be many Congolese ex-pats in the West. Unlike Butcher, they have all had a legitimate reason to be in this broken country.


Although his heart was in the right place, he travelled with the white Westerner's sense of entitlement. He ignored all the warnings which told him his trip represented a death wish. Time after time he pitched up at the best house in town, whether that was a hotel, a UN compound, a Catholic church or whatever, and assumed he would get a bed. I'd like to see a Congolese traveller try that in the UK. But it worked. Then he would hitch a lift with someone going overland or downriver to his destination. Sometimes this was just using up a bit more petrol on an existing journey to deliver vaccines or whatever, but sometimes it put at risk the lives of good-hearted people who went out of his way to help him. Ok, he paid them, but I did wonder what the locals felt when he told them of his long held ambition to recreate Stanley's journey downriver: and how many of them had a long held ambition to get the hell out of the Congo.


And the promised peril didn't exactly materialise. Rebels could be driven past quickly on a motorbike, palmed off with a shiny pamphlet or, in an emergency, hidden from behind a pillar. He ran into a lot of tedious bureaucracy but little actual danger - though I did worry that he created some danger for the people he had visited.


I am surprised to find myself so frustrated by a book which seems to be so universally admired. 

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