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Facing the Congo: A Modern-Day Journey into the Heart of Darkness

3.78  ·  Rating details ·  827 ratings  ·  67 reviews
Faced with an identity crisis in his work and his life, seasoned traveler and journalist Jeffrey Tayler made a bold decision. He would leave behind his mundane existence in Moscow to re-create the legendary British explorer Henry Stanley’s trip down the Congo in a dugout canoe, stocked with food, medicine, and even a gun-toting guide. But once his tiny boat pushed off the ...more
Paperback, 288 pages
Published October 9th 2001 by Broadway Books (first published September 1st 2000)
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3.78  · 
Rating details
 ·  827 ratings  ·  67 reviews

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Aug 04, 2011 rated it liked it
Tayler is an interesting dude—fresh off of a spell as manager of a bodyguard firm in the newly unleashed free-market-chaos of Moscow, and suddenly single after a painful breakup, he decided to test himself by traversing the 1,736 kilometre stretch of the equatorial Congo River between far-inland Kisangani and near-coastal Kinshasa, a voyage down the endless, jungle-limned, liquid serpent traversing the breadth of that vast, horrific nation-state clusterfuck alternately called the Democratic Repu ...more
It's funny, but I actually want to look up other things Jeffrey Tayler has written, to see if he really is as depressed as he seems to be. He planned and took this godforsaken trip (in the 1990's) to the Congo to break a personal downward spiral, and lo! it just got worse. He has the grace to admit it was a very bad idea, but we all have to admit he wouldn't have known that until he tried it. He is brutally frank: "My drama of self-actualization proved obscenely trivial beside the suffering of t ...more
Jan 12, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Tayler decides to travel by pirogue down the Congo River from Kisangani to Kinshasa, but realizes that much like Henry Morton Stanley before him (the last person to complete such a journey) he has made the trip for all the wrong reasons. The book serves as a good warning against those who might want to use a third world country as "a playground to satisfy [their] rich boy existential problems".

I picked the book up partly to help me in my desire to demystify the DRC--the huge and persistently pu
Amy Moritz
Sep 06, 2014 rated it really liked it
The book recounts the 1995 expedition of former Peace Corps worker Jeffrey Taylor who decides he needs to seek his life's purpose by traveling the Congo in a dugout canoe. I picked up this book upon the recommendation of a friend and as I started it, I was skeptical. Sure the writing was beautiful and his images of then-Zaire, of both the physical and political landscape, were haunting. But did my friend really steer me to a book about another 30-something white male who needed to out on adventu ...more
Nov 03, 2017 rated it liked it
Facing an existential dilemma and dissatisfied with his western lifestyle, Tayler attempts to paddle close to 1,800 km down Africa’s second longest river, the Congo.

Tayler’s journey and story, divides itself neatly into two. The first comprises his trip by boat up the Congo and he wonderfully describes the dangers he faces in the Democratic Republic of Congo, both on land and on the river itself. During the second part of his journey by pirogue/dugout down the Congo, Tayler vividly describes the
Aug 22, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2011-reads
Whoa! Never saw this one coming. What an incredibly well-written book! I thought this would be a cheesy copycat of the Heart of Darkness, but this book just seeps with raw feeling and jagged description of a wild land. I never would have guessed that a journey down the Congo would still be as terrifying as on the movie screen or what I read about back in high school. I recommend this to any thrill-seekers and world wanderers! ~NR
Jan 06, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This is a fantastic story of a bored author looking for meaning in his life (and something to do with it). He decides he's going to ride the length of the Congo to the mouth of the Atlantic. It's such a great book, and unlike other books, because he doesn't avoid contact with the people in favor of his goal, in fact he needs them to complete his task.
As I read, I began to get a sense of the people of this country and their lives. It's an insight you must experience for yourself.
Jan 25, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I could not put this book down. I love Africa, but this is a journey I will never take. Being an armchair traveler is ok sometimes. The River Congo was and still is one of the last "outposts" in the world. Jeffery Taylor is either brave or crazy, but his account and observations made for a very entertaining read!
Aug 29, 2011 rated it really liked it
I liked this book not because it gives great insight into the Congo (which it doesn't), I liked it for the naivety of its author, like a little boy looking at a map, studying then borders and rivers and then embarking on a crazy journey to try and follow one of those lines on the map.
Jun 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
A very interesting story in a very interesting place. I can't say the second half of the book was as good as the first but It is a true tale of adventure, and those should never be taken lightly.
Nancy Thormann
May 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
Jeffrey Tayler was very brave travelling to Zaire. It's not a journey I would have made.
Omar Manjouneh
Dec 15, 2016 rated it really liked it
"You see, the Belgians ate a lot of people here and the people are afraid of mondeles."
"What do you mean by 'ate'?"
"I mean ate. The Belgians used to eat people. They especially liked to eat young boys. The Belgians built houses in the forest, and if you went near them, they would lure you inside. This is history. They've found the houses with cellars filled with bones. You see, if you're alone, the people will think you're a Belgian, maybe you're a mercenary on a special mission. You may lure pe
Jul 28, 2014 rated it it was ok
As a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer myself, I was excited to read another RPCV's journey in Africa. I was, however, disappointed.
Taylor wavers between existential musings and descriptions of his own physical sufferings indiscriminately. He questions why Africans do certain things with absolutely no demonstrated understanding of their history and culture.
He comes across as pretentious throughout, trying to give his journey on the Congo some spiritual meaning, when he doesn't hold any of these be
Oct 05, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Travel memoirs of this type are my favorite: the narrator sets a challenge for himself, far outside his or her comfort zone and sets out for an unknown land to achieve it.
Jeffrey Tayler, suffering from a bad break up, possibly depression, and dissatisfaction with lack of life direction, decides to take a 1000+ river journey through land rumored to be cannibal country in a pirogue. He travels to Zaire, where he stands out as a white foreigner. He gets through all of the red tape and paperwork, an
Sep 07, 2015 rated it really liked it
Tayler is an American who lives in Moscow. Facing an identity crisis he decides to take a journey into the Heart of Darkness – he plans to take a pirogue down the Congo River in 2000. He takes the infamous barge up the river from Kinshasa to Kisangani, under the protection of an army colonel. This allows him to describe the corruption, poverty, and misery of the failed Zaire state after its long and brutal civil war. In addition to this political mess, it is clear the jungle is rife with debilit ...more
Jun 15, 2014 rated it it was ok
Ugh, I dislike this author. He's a fine writer and it was an interesting trip to read about, but he's exactly the type of person that I hate. He went on this crazy trip down the Congo River, complaining every step of the way and saying he was "scared" of a bunch of things. But he went out and did everything anyway, risking his life and that of others on the trip. He did all of this in the name of finding himself, which at the age of 33 sounds like a serious midlife crisis issue. Then he goes out ...more
Aug 10, 2010 rated it liked it
I am endlessly fascinated by stories of adventurers doing insanely dangerous trips, but Tayler's trip seemed like a selfish indulgence, unreasonably risky, and frankly, utterly miserable. I never really understood his motivation beyond the fact that he was bored, being a travel writer in Moscow. I found his descriptions of Mobutu-led Zaire, a totally failed state and its utter desperation to be fascinating, much more interesting than his actual journey down the Congo, which consisted repetitive ...more
Jul 10, 2011 rated it it was ok
I was tempted to simply rate it a single star. Around 2000-2004 I read several books about Africa, ranging from contemporary conflicts to the legacies of colonialism, texts like Philip Gourevich's We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed, Scott Peterson's Me Against My Brother and The Zanzibar Chest by Aidan Hartley.

Mr. Tayler's book shares only a locale with those masterful narratives. He is a poor writer. He incessantly moans and offers no context nor erudition. I had seen the bo
Jun 09, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: travel
Jeffrey Tayler's account of his incredibly ill-conceived decision to essentially canoe down the Congo. The dangers he faces are so far removed from what you might think the dangers of an epic outdoor adventure would be, that this book becomes both intriguing and somewhat disappointing. In a sense, Tayler was never allowed the opportunity to face the challenges of nature without the constant intervention of people; at the same time, it's this very fact that leads him to his ultimate epiphany.

Jan 27, 2009 rated it really liked it
Tayler sets out on what I immediately thought of as a death wish: to ride the river into the Congo (then Zaire). The history of the area has always been interesting (in a train wreck sort of way) to me, so I enjoyed all the extra history and political information that Tayler included. Tayler shows just how awful and corrupt the situation was. Luckily for him and his helper, Tayler admitted defeated before they experienced serious harm. In the epilogue, Tayler showed that the trip matured him to ...more
Dec 02, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: travel-writing
Considered to be among the best travel writing books, Facing the Congo is a story about the author's experience canoeing down the Congo River. In addition to the many near-death experiences, the book describes some of the history, culture, and politics of the Democratic Republic of Congo, the impacts of past colonization and current resource exploitation, and the moral questions raised by a wealthy person from the western world seeking adventure in an impoverished African country.
Lindsay Eaton
Aug 10, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The story of the author's trip up the Congo River by barge and back down again by pirogue in 1994. I think I would have been in raptures over this if I hadn't read 'Blood River' by Tim Butcher first. Though Jeffrey Tayler describes places and people incredibly well, the book didn't include the depth of historical background and analysis that made 'Blood River' so fascinating for me. It's a great read all the same.
David Ward
Facing the Congo: A Modern Day Journey Into the Heart of Darkness by Jeffrey Tayler (Ruminator Books 2000)(916.751). This is a recounting of modern-day Sub-Saharan travel by boat and on foot. The author recreated the trek by legendary explorer Henry Stanley to the heart of the Congo. The author found deprivation, mistrustful villagers, and a country broken by decades of despotic rule but also a land of unspeakable natural beauty. My rating: 7/10, finished 2002.
Mar 17, 2010 rated it it was ok
If you were to remove all references to sweat, heat, insects, and fear from this book, you would be left with very little.

Unbearably repetitive, this book chronicles Tayler's failed mission to sail down the Congo. It provides a very shallow peek into Congolese culture, mostly in allusions to poverty, corruption, and lack of modesty.

Oh how I wish I had not traded a small portion of my life for the information contained in this book.
Jan 17, 2009 rated it really liked it
nonfiction. Author is commentator on NPR and writes for travel mags. He lives in Moscow and decided to replicate Henry Stanley's trip down the Congo in a dugout canoe. Written so u can picture everything that is happening to him, feel his frustration, understand the anger at times. I will be reading more of his books.
Geir Ertzgaard
Jun 14, 2014 rated it liked it
Interessant bok, først og fremst som et reiseeventyr, mindre til å forstå Kongo. Har begrensninger som forteller, men likevel en mer enn godkjent opplevelse om en forfatter som velger å reise med dampbåt opp Kongoelven for å padle ned til Kinshasa. Ganske strevsomt, og en spennende reise - men ikke stor litteratur.
Feb 22, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: africa, 2009, travelogues
What is it with modern travelogues by people who don't accomplish their missions? This was like the third book like this that I read this year. Okay, sure, Tayler's mission to paddle down the incredibly dangerous and volatile Congo was stupid in the first place, but still. Do it or don't, you pansy.
Andy Harris
Oct 25, 2013 rated it really liked it
I found this a likeable book, author gives up job and disillusioned sets off to travel the Congo by small boat. It's an interesting journey, no big budget, no TV cameras, no support team this is just a man spending his own money to go through a testing journey. It's one of the best travel books I read as the author engages in a genuinely risk journey. Recommended.
Aug 29, 2007 rated it did not like it
Oh my God, you almost have to read this book because it is so delightfully terrible. A supposedly well-traveled American has the Romantic idea to paddle a dug-out canoe up the Congo River and has a hell of a time trying it. He decides to come home after a brief encounter with a man holding a machine gun, and he's so unlikeable that I met his failure with wicked glee.
Mar 26, 2016 rated it liked it
OK, a bit dated now, I guess.

He does come across as a bit of a wally. And sadly the Zairians don't come out of it well.
But you do get a sense of their struggle and difficulties of life under Mobuto.

He does have some self awareness of his privileged position in comparison to the Zairians, which is warming.
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Jeffrey Tayler is a U.S.-born author and journalist. He is the Russia correspondent for the Atlantic Monthly and a contributor to several other magazines as well as to NPR's All Things Considered. He has written several non-fiction books about different regions of the world which include Facing the Congo, Siberian Dawn, Glory in a Camel's Eye, and Angry Wind, the latter being a portrait of a journ ...more