The most recommended books about the Belgian Congo

Who picked these books? Meet our 27 experts.

27 authors created a book list connected to the Belgian Congo, and here are their favorite Belgian Congo books.
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Book cover of Miss Jill: A Novel

Isham Cook Author Of The Mustachioed Woman of Shanghai

From my list on written by foreigners in China.

Why am I passionate about this?

Having lived in China for almost three decades, I am naturally interested in the expat writing scene. I am a voracious reader of fiction and nonfiction on China, past and present. One constant in this country is change, and that requires keeping up with the latest publications by writers who have lived here and know it well. As an author of three novels, one short story collection, and three essay collections on China myself, I believe I have something of my own to contribute of documentary value, although I tend to hew to gritty, offbeat themes to capture a contemporary China unknown to the West.

Isham's book list on written by foreigners in China

Isham Cook Why did Isham love this book?

Emily Hahn, prolific author and New Yorker correspondent whose sojourns in Shanghai (1935-39), Chungking (1939-40), and Hong Kong (1941-43) coincided with the Japanese invasions of these cities, fictionalizes the life of Canadian Lorraine Murray, turned high-class prostitute in Shanghai after living as a foreign geisha in Japan. Hahn was fascinated by sex workers and hung out with them (Hahn and Murray were roommates), but the novel later morphs into the autobiographical as the beautiful Hahn ingratiates herself with Japanese military officials until she’s forced into a Hong Kong internment camp for several years. Hahn is more reporter than novelist, but her flair for detail and eyewitness authenticity brings Shanghai to life in a way the historical novelist cannot. Especially hilarious is Jill’s hotel scene with the British john who thought he was getting a freebie.

By Emily Hahn,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Miss Jill as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A novel about an enterprising Shanghai streetwalker from the “American literary treasure” and author of the memoir China to Me (The New Yorker).

Meet Miss Jill, a young woman pursuing the oldest profession in prewar Shanghai. Fifteen, blonde, and full of personality, Jill begins her career as a Japanese banker’s mistress. Soon after, she becomes a European prostitute in the house of Annette, and believes that any day now she’ll be married to a nobleman. But none of her adventures prepare Miss Jill for the war and her subsequent internment.
An early feminist and an American journalist who traveled to…

Book cover of The Word for World Is Forest

Michael Newton Author Of The Origins of Science Fiction

From my list on science fiction books about visiting alien worlds.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a cultural historian, film critic, literary critic, editor, and essayist–and a frustrated fiction writer–fascinated by ‘the fantastic’ in art or in life. Answering that fascination, I wrote Savage Girls and Wild Boys: A History of Feral Children (2002), and I’ve written two books for the BFI Film Classics series on two great movies of the fantastic, Rosemary’s Baby (2020) and It’s A Wonderful Life (2023). I also edited three anthologies of Victorian and Edwardian fantasy, The Penguin Book of Ghost Stories: From Elizabeth Gaskell to Ambrose Bierce (2010) and Victorian Fairy Tales (2015), and now an anthology, Origins of Science Fiction (2022) for Oxford World’s Classics. 

Michael's book list on science fiction books about visiting alien worlds

Michael Newton Why did Michael love this book?

Though I admire her classic work, The Left Hand of Darkness, it’s The Word For World Is Forest that most lingers in the mind.

Ursula Le Guin worried that the book was too simple and that its portrait of the mad colonialist soldier, Captain Davidson, was too unshaded a vision of militarist evil. Well, perhaps. However, men like Davidson can be found in equally brutal forms in accounts of the European invasion of the Americas or in Roger Casement’s report on the Belgians in the Congo.

But it is the otherworldly Selver who possesses my imagination, that archetypal ‘little green man,’ that strange new god of a person, poised between the innocent world he seeks to protect and the violence he must unleash to ensure its survival.

By Ursula K. Le Guin,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Word for World Is Forest as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

When the inhabitants of a peaceful world are conquered by the bloodthirsty yumens, their existence is irrevocably altered. Forced into servitude, the Athsheans find themselves at the mercy of their brutal masters.

Desperation causes the Athsheans, led by Selver, to retaliate against their captors, abandoning their strictures against violence. But in defending their lives, they have endangered the very foundations of their society. For every blow against the invaders is a blow to the humanity of the Athsheans. And once the killing starts, there is no turning back.

Book cover of Purity and Danger: An Analysis of Concepts of Pollution and Taboo

Monica Black Author Of A Demon-Haunted Land: Witches, Wonder Doctors, and the Ghosts of the Past in Post-WWII Germany

From my list on for historians who wish they were anthropologists.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am fascinated by the things people do and the reasons they give for doing them. That people also do things in culturally specific ways and that their culturally specific ways of doing things are related to their culturally specific ideas about what makes sense and what does not inspires in me a sense of awe. As a professor and historian, thinking anthropologically has always been an important tool, because it helps me look for the hidden, cultural logics that guided the behavior of people in history. It helps me ask different questions. And it sharpens my sense of humility for the fundamental unknowability of this world we call home.

Monica's book list on for historians who wish they were anthropologists

Monica Black Why did Monica love this book?

For me, the power of both history and anthropology as disciplines of knowledge is their shared capacity for taking a thing you thought you knew and showing you that you didn’t actually know anything about it at all—in fact, you didn’t even know what questions to ask about it. I would be seriously remiss in a list like this if I did not mention the book that first fascinated me, as a historian, with the anthropologist’s way of posing questions. In this towering classic of British social anthropology, Professor Douglas forces us completely to rethink something we actually never think about at all: dirt. But trust me, once you pose the question, “what is dirt?” you can never think about filth (and its structural counterpart, purity) in the same way again.

By Mary Douglas,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Purity and Danger as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Is cleanliness next to godliness? What does such a concept really mean? Why does it recur as a universal theme across all societies? And what are the implications for the unclean?

In Purity and Danger Mary Douglas identifies the concern for purity as a key theme at the heart of every society. In lively and lucid prose she explains its relevance for every reader by revealing its wide-ranging impact on our attitudes to society, values, cosmology and knowledge. This book has been hugely influential in many areas of debate - from religion to social theory. With a specially commissioned preface…

Book cover of East Along the Equator: A Journey Up the Congo and Into Zaire

Bill Murray Author Of Out There: Thirty Essays on Travel

From my list on African adventures.

Why am I passionate about this?

My only expertise is my enthusiasm for African travel. I’ve visited twenty countries, Morocco to Madagascar, the Great Lakes to the Skeleton Coast, for (I hope) my next book. You can read about a few of my African adventures, like crossing Lake Malawi, hurrying through Namibia, sailing to St. Helena Island, and witnessing the mass wildebeest migration, in my other books. Experiencing African culture, nature and wildlife is the most fun I’ve ever had, anytime, anywhere. By all means, if you can, go!

Bill's book list on African adventures

Bill Murray Why did Bill love this book?

Ms. Winternitz and Timothy Phelps traveled by local barge 2,000 miles up the Congo River in then-Zaire in 1983, living all the exotica, intrigue, and utter terror you’ve always imagined about the steamy African interior, with a requisite dose of political peril at the hands of Mobutu Sese Seko’s secret police. The Congo (river, country, jungle) is so fabled as opaque and impassable that it has spawned a mini-proliferation of titles.

By Helen Winternitz,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked East Along the Equator as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In this brilliant mix of political journalism and travel writing, Helen Winternitz and fellow journalist Timothy Phelps witness what few Westerners have: life in the ecologically rich but financially impoverished American-backed dictatorship of Zaire, the former Belgian Congo.

Book cover of Pandora in the Congo

Chris Turnbull Author Of The Planting of the Penny Hedge

From my list on fiction with an historical twist.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a Yorkshire writer with a passion for historical fiction. My love of history came as a surprise to me in my late teens, as I had originally thought history was not my thing. However, I soon discovered the incredible stories throughout history, and how many authors carve fictional stories around these time periods or historical events. I love researching for my own historical writing, whether it be to find out what kind of jobs people did, or what they ate for breakfast. I love reading and writing historical fiction in multiple eras, such as WW2, Victorian times, and further back to the Romans and ancient Egyptians. 

Chris' book list on fiction with an historical twist

Chris Turnbull Why did Chris love this book?

Pandora in the Congo was recommended to me by a friend, and although initially unsure due to its quirkiness (especially the further through you read), I ended up loving it. Set in 1914, this story is again set in a prison cell, with the main character re-telling the horrors he endured in the Congo on a mining expedition, which he alone became the sole survivor of. 

By Albert Sánchez Piñol, Mara Faye Lethem (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Pandora in the Congo as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

It is 1914. In the heart of the Belgian Congo, Garvey, a bedraggled British manservant, emerges from the jungle. He is the lone survivor of a mining expedition in which both his masters have died, and all of the party's African porters have fled. With him, he carries two huge diamonds.

From his prison cell in London, Garvey recounts his horrific and thrilling ordeal. Young Tommy Thomson is assigned to transcribe Garvey's story and only he can untangle the extraordinary mysteries of the Garvey case.

Book cover of The Dark of the Sun

Tony Park Author Of Blood Trail

From my list on to read on an African safari.

Why am I passionate about this?

I'm an Australian who fell in love with Africa in my 30s. I've now written 20 thrillers set in Africa and several non-fiction biographies. My wife and I have travelled extensively on the continent and now spend at least half our lives in Africa, and the remainder in Australia. I'm passionate about Africa's people, wildlife, and fragile natural environment. While my books focus on some of the continent's problems – especially the illegal trade in wildlife – I'm a sucker for a happy ending and find no shortage of positive, inspirational people on my travels who serve as the inspiration for the good guys and girls in my stories. 

Tony's book list on to read on an African safari

Tony Park Why did Tony love this book?

I'm sometimes compared to the late, great, Wilbur Smith, who wrote dozens of books set in Africa. I think that if there is a similarity, then my books are probably most like Wilbur's earlier novels, where he tended to write about contemporary southern Africa (as I do now). My favourites were his stand-alone novels, including The Dark of the Sun about a group of mercenaries who have to rescue a train load of civilians during the fighting in the former Belgian Congo in the 1960s. It was made into a movie back in the day (The Mercenaries), and later provided the inspiration for the Bruce Willis film, Tears of the Sun.

By Wilbur Smith,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Dark of the Sun as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An action-packed thriller by global bestselling author, Wilbur Smith.

'A master storyteller' - Sunday Times

'Wilbur Smith is one of those benchmarks against whom others are compared' - The Times

'No one does adventure quite like Smith' - Daily Mirror

The highest prize comes at the highest price . . .

Captain Bruce Curry has a simple enough mission: to lead his mercenary soldiers to rescue a town cut off by rebel fighting in the Belgian Congo. But events quickly take a turn for the worse as it becomes clear that the town's diamond supplies are the real focus of…

Book cover of The Poisonwood Bible

Kevin Chen Author Of Ghost Town

From my list on family saga books that unravel dark secrets.

Why am I passionate about this?

I have 7 sisters and 1 brother. I was the 9th child in my family. To get a son who would carry on the family heritage, my parents tried 7 times without any success. After 7 unwanted daughters, my brother finally arrived. Then they had me as the second boy in the family. The plot twist was: I am gay. I turned out to be the 8th unwanted daughter because of my sexuality. Coming from this small-town big family full of superstitions and secrets, I am naturally drawn to dramatic family stories with many dark and psychological twists.

Kevin's book list on family saga books that unravel dark secrets

Kevin Chen Why did Kevin love this book?

At first, I was scared by the thickness of the book. More than 600 pages? I didn’t think I would have the patience and time to finish it. My book club chose the book as a reading challenge for everyone. A challenge indeed. But a colorful one.

I remember carrying the book with me everywhere I went. As I finally reached the last page of this riveting family saga set in Africa, I felt older and wiser. Wow, I actually finished the thick novel. It was a great achievement.

I was never bored or tired. I did not want the story to end. It could have been 6000 pages and I still would have thrown myself into this epic story.

By Barbara Kingsolver,

Why should I read it?

18 authors picked The Poisonwood Bible as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?



An international bestseller and a modern classic, this suspenseful epic of one family's tragic undoing and their remarkable reconstruction has been read, adored and shared by millions around the world.

'Breathtaking.' Sunday Times
'Exquisite.' The Times
'Beautiful.' Independent
'Powerful.' New York Times

This story is told by the wife and four daughters of Nathan Price, a fierce, evangelical Baptist who takes his family and mission to the Belgian Congo in 1959.

They carry with them everything they believe they will…