John's Reviews > Journey Without Maps

Journey Without Maps by Graham Greene
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's review
Apr 16, 2010

it was ok
Read from April 04 to 16, 2010

This travel book, published in 1936, is the account of a journey the author and his female cousin took on foot (more or less) across Liberia. At the time, the only British map of Liberia had a large, empty, white space on it, and the only U.S. map had the same white space with the word "Cannibals" written on it. Hence, the title.
It is less impressive when you learn that Greene hired 25 native "carriers" to accompany them. They not only carried the stuff, they carried his cousin, and, on a few occasions, Greene.
Greene and a couple of the carriers seemingly always got far ahead of the rest of the group, and he apparently gave his cousin only a vague idea of where they were going. At one point, they nearly went different directions, and they likely wouldn't have gotten together again until they reached the coast. This does not seem very chivalrous.
Was the journey itself a good idea? It sure doesn't sound like loads of fun:
"This, as I grew more tired and my health a little failed, seemed to be what I would chiefly remember as Africa: cockroaches eating our clothes, rats on the floor, dust in the throat, jiggers under the nails, ants fastening on the flesh."
To me, this book seemed disorganized and hard to follow. It might have made more sense to a British audience in the 1930s.
But I did like Greene's defense of missionaries, which I think holds true even more today than it did then:
"A great deal of nonsense has been written about missionaries. When they have not been described as the servants of imperialists or commercial exploiters, they have been regarded as sexually abnormal types who are trying to convert a simple happy pagan people to a European religion and stunt them with European repressions. It seems to be forgotten that Christianity is an Eastern religion to which Western pagans have been quite successfully converted. Missionaries are not even given credit for logic, for if one believes in Christianity at all, one must believe in its universal validity. A Christian cannot believe in one God for Europe and another God for Africa; the importance of Semitic religion was that it did not recognize one God for the East and another for the West."
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