In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz

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9780060934439: In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz

A story of grim comedy amid the apocalypse and a celebration of the sheer indestructibility of the human spirit in a nation run riot: Michela Wrong’s vision of Congo/Zaire during the Mobutu years is incisive, ironic and revelatory.

Mr Kurtz, the colonial white master, brought evil to the remote upper reaches of the Congo River. A century after Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’ was first published, Michela Wrong revisits the Congo during the turbulent era of Mobutu Sese Seko.

From the heart of Africa comes grotesque confusion: pink-lipsticked rebel soldiers mingle with track-suited secret policemen in hotels where fin de siecle dinner parties are ploughing through vintage wines rather than leave them to the new regime. Congo, the African country richest in natural resources, has institutionalised kleptomania. Everyone is on the take. Someone has even swiped one of the uranium rods from the country’s only nuclear reactor.

Having presided over unprecedented looting of the country’s wealth, Mobutu, like Kurtz, retreated deep within the jungle to his palace of marble floors and gold taps. A hundred years on and nothing has changed.

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Review:

Towards the end of Michela Wrong's highly readable debut, she quotes a military analyst wryly observing that so many mercenaries live to write their memoirs. The same could be said of foreign correspondents. Wrong separates herself from the hack pack by hitting the ground running, to apply a military metaphor, with her absorbing history of the country currently known as the Democratic Republic of Congo. Colonised by King Leopold II of Belgium (the only European monarch to personally own an African country), durable foundations for kleptocratic rule paved the way for Mobutu's "authentic" Zaire, the Leopard following Leopold. Clad in his trademark leopardskin toque and Buddy Holly sunglasses (purest African dictator kitsch, thus the ironically tacky cover), Wrong uncovers all the qualities of an autocrat: formidable memory, demagogic charisma, chameleon-like pragmatism, and a disastrous disdain for economics. In one memorable incident, Mobutu agreed a price for a neo-classical French villa, before casually enquiring whether the currency was US dollars or Belgian francs--the 39-fold difference being of no consequence. Tales of hidden Mobutu fortunes are tantalising, but hide a more prosaic truth: the most significant legacy taken up by his rotund ouster, Laurent Kabila, is Mobutuism, exemplified by a strong security force, "divide and rule", and a strangulated economy.

Perhaps more modest of intent than Adam Hochschild's King Leopold's Ghost,Wrong's account excels at scrutinising a nation as abundant as the mineral and ore deposits beneath its troubled soil. Gently drawing out testimonies from a former Belgian administrator, a former CIA man, ex-pats, Mobutu'sex-son-in-law, the disabled peddlers of Kinshasa, and the immaculately costumed sapeurs with their Lingala music, her sympathetic manner belies a keen intelligence and sensitivity to environment, whether it's Mama Yemo hospital, with guards to protect against non-paying patients escaping, or a terrifying White Elephant of a nuclear reactor. "In the Footsteps of Mr Kurtz" teases out the nuances of a complicated, haunted country in a wonderfully clear, uncluttered manner, while remaining sympathetic to its entrancing, troubled rhythms. --David Vincent

Review:

‘A stylish account of the absurd as well as the tragic.’ Sunday Times

‘This book will become a classic.’ Economist

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Book Description HarperCollins Publishers Inc, United States, 2002. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Reprint. 203 x 135 mm. Language: English . Brand New Book. Known as the Leopard, the president of Zaire for thirty-two years, Mobutu Sese Seko, showed all the cunning of his namesake -- seducing Western powers, buying up the opposition, and dominating his people with a devastating combination of brutality and charm. While the population was pauperized, he plundered the country s copper and diamond resources, downing pink champagne in his jungle palace like some modern-day reincarnation of Joseph Conrad s crazed station manager.Michela Wrong, a correspondent who witnessed Mobutu s last days, traces the rise and fall of the idealistic young journalist who became the stereotype of an African despot. Engrossing, highly readable, and as funny as it is tragic, In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz assesses the acts of the villains and the heroes in this fascinating story of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Bookseller Inventory # AAS9780060934439

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Book Description HarperCollins Publishers Inc, United States, 2002. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Reprint. 203 x 135 mm. Language: English . Brand New Book. Known as the Leopard, the president of Zaire for thirty-two years, Mobutu Sese Seko, showed all the cunning of his namesake -- seducing Western powers, buying up the opposition, and dominating his people with a devastating combination of brutality and charm. While the population was pauperized, he plundered the country s copper and diamond resources, downing pink champagne in his jungle palace like some modern-day reincarnation of Joseph Conrad s crazed station manager.Michela Wrong, a correspondent who witnessed Mobutu s last days, traces the rise and fall of the idealistic young journalist who became the stereotype of an African despot. Engrossing, highly readable, and as funny as it is tragic, In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz assesses the acts of the villains and the heroes in this fascinating story of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Bookseller Inventory # AAS9780060934439

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