A frank and open-minded account from Flemish journalist Joris of her venture into Zaire, formerly called the Congo, the infamous inspiration for Conrad's Heart of Darkness. As a child, Joris heard the tales told by her uncle, a Belgian missionary serving in the Congo. His visits were family milestones and the curios and gifts he sent back to Belgium became treasured heirlooms. But Joris the adult journalist wanted not only to follow in her uncle's footsteps but to see for herself what contemporary Zaire was like. A subtext here is a retrospective look at Belgian colonialism, notorious for its tragic failure to prepare the Congolese for independence, which, when it occurred, resulted in immediate chaos that led to the subsequent rise of Mobutu Sese Seko (president since 1965) and the ``Barons,'' who have brazenly used the country's great mineral wealth to enrich themselves. Joris first visits her uncle's old mission postings, where she meets his now-aging colleagues and learns that the Church is still one of the few ways out of poverty for bright young men, though many local churches and schools are closed down for lack of money. This poverty is a common theme of Congolese life, Joris learns, as she balances encounters with white expatriates with an excursion on the aging steamer that plies the Congo River from Kinshasa to Kisangani; a visit to Gbadolite, Mobutu's own Versailles; a trip to the southern mining province of Shaba, which in 1977 rebelled against Mobutu; and, on the lighter side but no less instructive, evenings in Maton, the famous entertainment district of Kinshasa. A deliberately impressionistic rather than definitive account, with Joris's perceptive insights and palpable sympathies for a long-suffering people making it more than just another travel book.
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