For many years Sierra Leone and Liberia have been too dangerous to travel through. With their wars officially over, Tim Butcher sets out on a journey across both countries, trekking for 350 miles through remote rainforest and malarial swamps, pursuing a trail blazed by Graham Greene in 1935. Weaving history and anthropology with personal narrative - as well as new discoveries about Greene - it is as exciting as it is enlightening.
©2010 Tim Butcher (P)2011 WF Howes Ltd
Graham Greene, along with his cousin Barbara and a host of bearers, traveled through Sierra Leone and Liberia in the mid-thirties; seventy five years later, Tim Butcher followed their route (as closely as he could) to see what traces of their journey remain.
At first, I felt that the story seemed a bit padded, as the actual trip didn't begin until he and his companions left Freetown almost a quarter of the way through the book. Sierra Leone proved a bit tricky to interpret, however, as the Greenes traveled via a railway that hasn't existed for over a generation, leaving Butcher to give impressions as best he could.
The second half of the book, through Liberia with a brief cut through Guinea (as the Greenes had done) proved more ... swashbuckling, in that Liberia's chaos, while initially directed at the Americo-Liberian elite, quickly became a violent tale of inter-tribal conflict. Thus, the author manages to work in the Greenes' experience, as well as his own, filtered by the stories and visual evidence of warfare.
Barbara Greene's book is harder to get a hold of, but I'd recommend (at least) reading Graham's book before tackling this one. A strong interest in travel narrative, or a background in West African history, would come in handy as well. Very good narration.
The text is very well written and easy to follow. The story is filled with what you would expect from almost any story from most of Africa... Dark beauty and lots of suffering. It is a good read, in a journalistic/historical narrative voice. There is so much history in fact that I found I did not have to keep track of the narrative as closely as I would adventure books such as "Tracks" or "Carnivorous Nights". I listened to "Chasing The Devil" while at work, and when interrupted now and then I did not have to rewind to find the place I left off, but could still keep up with the tale without confusion. Well worth the read, but not one for my top ten list.
"Another excellent read"
I greatly enjoyed Blood River and was excited to hear that Tim Butcher had written this book. His ability to weave together historical background with his day to day experiences paints a captivating picture of a fascinating country with a sad past and uncertain future. A definite one to recommend.
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