David van Reybrouck, the writer-in-residence in 2008, traversed the “intergalactic mental distance between Wassenaar and the Democratic Republic of Congo” while writing parts of his highly acclaimed literary non-fiction book “Congo, a History”.
About the Book
Hailed as “a monumental history . . . more exciting than any novel” (NRC Handelsblad),David van Reybrouck’s rich and gripping epic, in the tradition of Robert Hughes’ The Fatal Shore, tells the extraordinary story of one of the world’s most devastated countries: the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Epic in scope yet eminently readable, penetrating and deeply moving, David van Reybrouck’s Congo: The Epic History of a People traces the fate of one of the world’s most critical, failed nation-states, second only to war-torn Somalia: the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Van Reybrouck takes us through several hundred years of history, bringing some of the most dramatic episodes in Congolese history. Here are the people and events that have impinged the Congo’s development—from the slave trade to the ivory and rubber booms; from the arrival of Henry Morton Stanley to the tragic regime of King Leopold II; from global indignation to Belgian colonialism; from the struggle for independence to Mobutu’s brutal rule; and from the world famous Rumble in the Jungle to the civil war over natural resources that began in 1996 and still rages today.
Van Reybrouck interweaves his own family’s history with the voices of a diverse range of individuals—charismatic dictators, feuding warlords, child-soldiers, the elderly, female merchant smugglers, and many in the African diaspora of Europe and China—to offer a deeply humane approach to political history, focusing squarely on the Congolese perspective and returning a nation’s history to its people.
David van Reybrouck on his NIAS Residency
“During my five-month stay as a Writer-in-Residence at NIAS I was working on two projects: my literary non-fiction book on the history of Congo, and my essay on populism (due to appear in August 2008, as part of the notorious Pamflettenreeks, Pamphlet Series, by Querido Publishers).
The latter was scarcely conceived when I arrived in Wassenaar, but its emergence reveals the intricacies of the intellectually stimulating climate at NIAS. The daily exchanges with a number of fellows, the ease with which Dutch scholars outside the institute could be reached and the astonishing library services proved particularly conducive to creative thinking and greatly facilitated my forays into new fields of interest and inquiry.
Substantial progress was also made on my Congo research. Although the mental distance between Wassenaar and the Democratic Republic of Congo often seemed to verge on the intergalactic, I succeeded in securing a firm grip on the Mobutu years (1965-1997), a 32-year time span that still reverberates in today’s politics and society in Central Africa.”
“Balancing research with personal testimonies, Van Reybrouck . . . presents a panoramic account of Congo’s turbulent past.” — New York Times Book Review: Paperback Row
“A vivid panorama of one of the most tormented lands in the world… A valuable addition to the rich literature that Congo has inspired.” — Washington Post
“Van Reybrouck’s carefully researched and elegantly written book takes in the reader with compelling portraits of ordinary people that enrich what would otherwise be a fairly conventional historical narrative.” — Foreign Affairs
“A magnificent, epic look at the history of the region… A monumental contribution to the annals of Congo scholarship.” — The Christian Science Monitor
“[A] detailed and well-researched biography, thoroughly rooted in the lived experience of the Congolese… It is clear that the author is not your typical historian dryly publishing his findings, but a literary artist with a pen almost as sharp as Lumumba’s tongue.” — ThinkAfricaPress.com
“… a compelling mixture of literary and oral history that delivers an authentic story of how European colonialism, African resistance, and the endless exploitation of natural resources affected the lives of the Congolese.” — Booklist
“Van Reybrouck’s extensive account reveals the depth and breadth of exploitation, particularly under Belgian colonial rule, and how Congo’s story is one fraught with the toxic cycle of ‘desire, frustration, revenge.’” — Publishers Weekly
“Van Reybrouck makes a good case for the importance of Congo to world history and its ongoing centrality in a time of resurgent economic colonialism, this time on the part of China. — Kirkus Reviews
“a monumental history . . . more exciting than any novel.” — NRC Handelsblad
“An unbelievable tour de force.” — Humo
“An absolute masterpiece!” — VPRO Radio
“Breathtaking.” — Trouw
“Van Reybrouck tells his story . . . through numerous astute and intelligent voices of the Congo citizens and storytellers. . . . [Van Reybrouck] is not just an historian but a significant ethnographer who deeply cares about the people whose history he is narrating.” — Rain Taxi
“If you are looking to read one book on Congo this year, this is it. David Van Reybrouck combines deep historical investigation with extensive ethnography. The result is an illuminating narrative.” — Mahmood Mamdani, Director of the Makerere Institute of Social Research and author of Good Muslim, Bad Muslim
“A well-documented and passionate narrative which reads like a novel. [..] As an eye, a judge, and a witness, a talented writer testifies.” — V.Y.M. Mudimbe, author of The Invention of Africa
“Congo is a remarkable piece of work. Van Reybrouck [keeps] a panoramic history of a vast and complex nation accessible, intimate and particular.” — Michela Wrong, author of In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz