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To get my one gripe out of the way first: - It might be a fairly stupidly obvious thing to say but the titles given to books can be really important; they might be the initial hook to draw us to pick the thing up in the first place, the crutch to keep us going and indeed they sometimes colour our understanding or interpretation of the books content. With this book I found the title aggravating. I began to read it because I had been genuinely moved and amazed by the previous book I had read of Butchers, Blood River and therefore i decided to pick this up even though the title seemed a tad histrionic and sensationalist. Butcher admirably elucidates what he means by the Devil, but it grated because the title itself did not accurately describe what we were reading. The devil is shorthand for the admittedly horrendous secret societies of the African hinterland, the main one he encountered being the Poro. However, Butcher is not really investigating them in any sense in which chasing would be an accurate verb. Instead, if anything, he stumbles across them and then encounters their total secrecy, the breaking of which is punishable by amputation, isolation and, tragically on many occasions, death. I know this will seem a ridiculously picky moan but there you are.Having said that i feel better. Butcher does writes a fascinating and very personal travelogue folowing in the footsteps of Graham Greene and his cousin, Barbara who walked the self same hike across Liberia in 1935. What Butcher and his three companions do,(The three companions being David, a Brit and two local men Johnson and Mr Omaru. Though local appears to have a very small geographically specific meaning in Liberia,), is seek to emulate as far as is possible the Greenes trail. Amazingly they often encounter things dramatically unchanged or perhaps more depressingly, much worse after the years of coup and counter-coup, of violence and repression, of depressingly familiar embezzlement, corruption and short-sighted hypocrisy.The arrogant leadership of the descendants of freed slaves who ruled and, astoundingly, enslaved the native bush dwellers up until into the 30s when Greene was surreptiously investigatng this was finally swept aside by an horrendous bloodletting in 1980. Doe, the new Dictator was himself brutally murdered 10 years later after himself wading through the much mourned rivers of blood and then Charles Taylor swept to power and it was he who finally destroyed totally the infrastructure and spirit of the Country. After the brutal civil war his ousting might have heralded a positive future but corruption and the power of secret tribal aliances and societies devestated even this small hope.Certainly Butcher enables his reader to see the power of these groups and the uphill struggle the wider community has to weaken or at least soften the power exercised by the shadowy leaders and his analysis of why these societies hamstring development was fascinating.It is a community-focused phenomenon, born from the necessity of surviving in the tough West African bush, and by its nature it stresses the value of the group over the individual, of developing at the pace of the lowest common denominator, not the advanced outlier. And it is this feature of Poro, and any other secret society found elsewhere in Africa, that condemns its followers to flatlining stagnationObviously this quotation, taken out of its context, probably sounds horrendous as surely humanity at its best should develop by bearing in mind those at the lowest and most vulnerable points in society but the Poro do this at the expense of freedom and individuality and independence of thought. They impose it not through an overall recognition of the needs of the weakest but often by an intransigent maintaining at all costs of the power structure which survives through fear, intimidation and rank cruelty. It is a depressingly familiar story which weighs the reader down because the seeming hopelessness of the situation serves only to show how far Liberia is from a fighting chance of improvement whilst corruption and nepotism and violence still holds sway. At one point Johnson, a seemingly lovely bloke whose personality Butcher enables to shine through the narrative, loses his normal joie de vivre as he passes through one isolated village on the hike. In a group of men who are idly sitting at peace and quiet in the heat of the day, Johnson has spotted one of the chief architects of Taylors brutal violence and cruelty. This man remains at large, unpunished and quite clearly unfazed. He knows he will never be called to account and so, powerlessly, does Johnson.Tim Butcher is an excellent writer, he has a lovely turn of phrase and is a dab hand at the striking image. In an abandoned rubber plantationThere were giants(trees) as thick as my torso, with boles as misshapen as recently-fed pythons . Having just watched one horrible scene invoving a python in Snakes on a plane this brought me a lurch of realization.He writes with humour when appropriate and very movingly at others. His references to his own experiences in war-torn Liberia and also his third party accounts of friends and colleagues are genuinely poignant and striking. The sacrifices and deprivations undergone by the journalists so as to report from these places of horror and blood are often impressive and noble but the thing i most admired about Butchers accounts was that he never sought to make their sacrifices out to be worse then the people of whom and for whom they were reporting. The journalists, though brave, could opt to not go. His account makes very clear his recognition that tragically the people on the ground, those most in need, have not the luxury of any kind of choice. ps. Just a quick word for the lovely pencil drawings at the head of each chapter. They are by Sally Stephens and they are enchanting.

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