David Van Reybrouck / David Van Reybrouck – Congo

David Van Reybrouck – Congo

David Van Reybrouck – Congo

Rights sold

  • Suhrkamp (Germany)
  • Actes Sud (France)
  • Fourth Estate (England)
  • Ecco (USA)
  • Feltrinelli (Italy)
  • Tiderne Skifter (Denmark)
  • Siltala (Finland)
  • Font (Norway)
  • Natur och Kultur (Sweden)
  • Foksal (Poland)
  • Huazhong University of Science (China)
  • Taurus (Spanje)


About the book

In July 2009, the American magazine Foreign Policy published its annual list of failed nation-states. The Democratic Republic of Congo occupied fifth place, after notoriously dysfunctional states like Somalia, Zimbabwe, Sudan, and Chad, and ahead of war-torn countries like Iraq and Afghanistan. This performance was particularly depressing, given the high hopes that surrounded the presidential election of 2006, the first democratic ballot since the country gained independence in 1960. In fact, a few years into the new administration, the country seems to be doing even worse, despite its immense natural resources.

Congo: A History traces the fate of one of the world’s most devastated countries. Understanding its ongoing crisis requires a long-term historical perspective. David Van Reybrouck begins his gripping account of hope and madness in the 1870s and chronicles the pre-colonial, colonial and postcolonial era up to 2010, the fiftieth anniversary of Congo’s independence. His vivid narrative zooms in on the impact of the slave trade and the late-nineteenth-century rubber boom, presents lively portraits of Belgian colonization, the struggle for independence, Lumumba’s tragic life and Mobutu’s dictatorship, and details the causes of the war that has raged between 1996 and the present, the deadliest conflict since the Second World War.

Van Reybrouck’s remarkable achievement is to have skilfully interwoven state-of-the-art scholarship, journalistic élan and literary flair. The author, a former academic turned award-winning writer, is regarded as the most versatile among the younger generation of Belgian writers. Congo: A History is based on little-known archival sources and extensive travelling in Central-Africa. Penetrating and deeply moving, the book systematically approaches history from a Congolese perspective.

The hundreds of interviews which Van Reybrouck conducted both in the slums of Kinshasa and in the villages of the interior, as well as in the African diaspora of Europe and China lend a unique dimension to a rich and convoluted history. Focusing consistently on the dreams and memories of ordinary citizens, the book shows how history moulds individual lives and how individuals can sometimes mould history in their turn. Congo: A History is an epic tale in which elderly Congolese, some of them well over a hundred, reminisce about their lives in a country where the average life expectancy has dropped to 45. It creates a panoramic canvas where child-soldiers, encountered by the author in the rebel territories in the East, talk candidly about their choices and misfortunes. It also highlights little-known aspects of contemporary Congolese culture. For example, the author travelled with female merchants from Kinshasa via Nairobi and Bangkok to Guangzhou, where he learnt how to smuggle mobile phones and wigs destined for the African markets.

With its epic sweep, eminent readability, and love for the telling concrete detail, Congo: A History does for Africa what Robert Hughes’ Fatal Shore did for Australia. Its erudition and unsurpassed curiosity recall the writings of Claudio Magris and Tony Judt; its deeply humane approach to political history echoes the work of Tzvetan Todorov and Albert Camus.

Once opened, an abyss emerges in this book, from which rises a peak of historiography and documentary literature. For Belgium the book of the century, for Europa the book of the decade. - Peter Sloterdijk Süddeutsche Zeitung in ‘Bücher des Jahres'

Jahrhundertbuch – Spiegel online

Eine wunderbare Mischung aus Zeitreise und Reisebericht, aus Doku-Drama und Wirtschaftskrimi, aus Geschichte von unten und Krisenreportage aus eigener Anschauung. – Die Zeit

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

A monumental history . . . more exciting than any novel. — NRC Handelsblad

An unbelievable tour de force. — Humo

Breathtaking. — Trouw


David Van Reybrouck (b. 1971) is a journalist, a writer of literary non-fiction, a poet and a playwright. He made his debut in 2001 with the award-winning The plague. His greatest succes is Congo, a History, for which he received a slew of national and international prizes including the Libris History Prize 2010, the Jan Greshoff Prize 2010 and the AKO Literature Prize 2010. The book was a runaway succes in Germany, France and Norway and was translated into  many languages. A Plea for Populism won him the Jan Hanlo Essay Prize 2009 and the Flemish Cultural Prize for Criticism and the Essay 2009. 2013 saw the publication of Against Elections, an urgent call for the reform of democracy, which has been sold to fifteen territories to date. In March 2016 Zinc was the official ‘Dutch Book Week 2016’ essay.


© Stephan Vanfleteren

Additional book information

  • Literary non-fiction
  • ISBN 9789023472797
  • Number of pages: 680
  • World rights: De Bezige Bij
  • Price: € 19,90
  • English sample translation available