This week's reading them was The Congo. I wrote a very--very very--long review of these two books, which I've shelved as being about a great many topics apart from the books, and I'll post pieces of it as time goes on. So here's a much quicker
The first book was The Congo from Leopold to Kabila: A People's History, by Congolese academic Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja. The book was more academic than I'd expected and as such I wouldn't call it a fun read. But it was certainly informative. Nzongola is a true believer in the power of democracy, truer I think than most American politicians. That bias (if you can call it that) is evident throughout the book, and Nzongola clearly believes that if real democracy can be brought to the Congo the place will settle down. But the country's history is rapine followed by more rapine; the place has never known a government that didn't consist of wealthy thugs stealing money from the treasury while ignoring the needs of the population--never. Not once since it was created in the 1880s. And it does not know that now. Having searched around on the internet for recent writings from Nzongola (the book was published in 2003, after Laurent Kabila's assassination but before this summer's election was on the calendar), it is clear he does not believe Joseph Kabila, or the elections as constituted this year, will bring democracy to the country. It is hard for me to see much hope for the place, but Nzongola does, and closes the book by reaffirming his belief that it is possible for democracy to come to Congo, and when it does it will bring peace to the country. We can only hope.
Facing the Congo by Jeffrey Tayler was a somewhat different book, a travelogue. Mr. Tayler, finding himself (as I do) bored and dissatisfied with life, decides he has a need for adventure, and that he will find himself somewhere on the Congo River. He determines to fly to Zaire (this was in 1994, while Mobutu was still in power and before the name had changed), take a barge upriver to Kisangani, the highest navigable point on the Congo, and from there purchase a pirogue (a Congolese dugout canoe), and a hire a guide, and pirogue down the river alone all the way to Kinshasa. Suffice to say he has not even made to Kinshasa and he is already wondering whether this is a good idea. It isn't, of course, it's absolutely a dreadful idea, but Tayler proceeds apace and survives to write about his trip. Of the two books, though Nzongola's is an outstanding work and very thought-provoking, this is of course far away the more readable and more interesting. More than that, as travel writing goes, Tayler's trip makes all other so-called "adventure travel" look like a Sunday drive with Miss Daisy. I highly recommend it.