My review of Tim Butcher’s Blood River: A Journey to Africa’s Broken Heart runs in the Sept./Oct./Nov. issue of Bookforum. Butcher was the Telegraph’s Africa correspondent when he set out, in 2004, to retrace H.M. Stanley’s 1874-77 journey along the Congo River. It’s almost as dangerous a trip now as it was back then, and it takes guts to attempt it.
The corruption, misery, and decay that Butcher encountered along the way makes for eye-opening reading about what’s happened to the country post-independence. (It’s not pretty.) But I had some quarrels with the book as travel lit. A bad trip isn’t the same thing as a good story. More worrisome to me was Butcher’s decision, at the end of the book, to issue a continent-wide call for “the people of Africa” to take responsibility for their postcolonial problems. Just how far have we come since the imperialist generalizations of 130 years ago?