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JEFFREY TAYLER is the author of Siberian Dawn: A Journey Across the New Russia. He writes for Cond Nast Traveler, Spin, Harper's, and other publications and is a commentator on NPR's All Things Considered. Two of his essays appear in the inaugural edition of The Best American Travel Writing. He lives in Russia.
In this Heart of Darkness-revisited tale, Tayler (Siberian Dawn) sets out to retrace the steps of British explorer Henry Morton Stanley, who in the 1870s, accompanied by a crew of hundreds of Africans and three Europeans, sailed the entire length of the Congo River in a pirogue. At 33, Tayler, an American ex-pat living in Moscow, finds himself wading into the murky waters of an existential crisis. Having traveled and lived in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, and journeyed across Siberia, he is unable to shake off the wanderlust bug. But his personal crisis runs deeper than whether to find a job and settle down. "The imperative," he writes, "is to accept the frightening yet liberating fact of our finitude... not to succumb to the illusion, comforting though it may be, that our days will go on and on." He makes a final lunge in the hope that "facing the Congo" will create more meaning for him than simply a new adventure. Tayler arrives, however, not in Stanley's 19th-century Congo, but in Mobutu's corrupt and strife-ridden Zaire in the aftermath of the infamous pillaging that tore the country asunder in the early 1990s. Throughout his journey downriver, the author ruminates on the significance of his own life and the history of the Congo and its terrible legacy of colonialism and enslavement, asking what "right" he or any Westerner has to venture, pockets full of cash, into a foreign land stricken with poverty and misery. Eloquent and sincere, Tayler brings immense cultural sensitivity to his journey, fully conscious that the poverty and misery are in large part due to Western hegemony. His story, however, ends abruptly, and his questioning sinks deep into the jungle whence it came. (Sept.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
"One of the best travel books of 2000."
--The New York Times Book Review
"Heart-stopping, breathtaking adventure. Facing the Congo
is a book worth reading and rereading."
--Morning Edition, National Public Radio "Facing the Congo does what a travel book is supposed to do. It presents a vividly described world that brings the reader as close to the Congo as words can do, inspiring the type of wanderlust that can only be sated by one's picking a spot on a map and just going."
--CNN.com "Tayler goes off the beaten path to give us a much deeper version of the truth, and unlike so many other gonzo travel writers, he is not politically na ve."
--Robert Kaplan, author of Balkan Ghosts