Journey Without Maps

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First edition cover (Heinemann, UK)

Journey Without Maps (1936) is a travel account by Graham Greene, about a 350-mile, 4-week walk through the interior of Liberia in 1935. It was Greene's first trip outside of Europe. He hoped to leave civilization and find the "heart of darkness" in Africa. The interior of Liberia was at the time unmapped (an American government map had the interior as a large white space marked "cannibals"), and so he relied on local guides and porters.

Greene set off from the northernmost point of the country bordering Sierra Leone near the town of Kailahun (near Pendembu) and travelled in a south-easterly direction through the jungle highlands. He crossed through a section of French Guinea, going between the Liberian towns of Zorzor and Ganta, before turning south-west and arriving at the coast at Grand Bassa. He then traveled by sea to Monrovia.

Greene's account provides many insights into what Liberia was like in 1935. The country has not modernised much since, in particular away from the coast, so much of it remains unchanged to this day. Greene did encounter a number of white people along the way including American and English missionaries, a German adventurer, gold seekers and beachcombers. Most of the villages he passed through had encountered whites before, but it had been years, and so for many of the younger people it was a new experience. Greene documents the deplorable public health; there were only a handful of doctors in the whole country. A long list of diseases visibly ravaged the typical Liberian (venereal disease and malaria in particular were almost universal, with various weeping sores and wounds from insects and occasionally leprosy). Greene drank whisky during the entire trip, going through cases of it. He became ill halfway through the journey, during their stay at Zigiter, and almost died while in Zigi's Town, near the end of the trip. During this experience he discovered that he had a "passionate interest in living" which "seemed that night an important discovery".[1] The trip also shaped his future writing career.[2]

Greene travelled with his cousin, Barbara Greene, who in 1938 produced her own memoir of the trip, Land Benighted (republished in 1981 as Too Late to Turn Back[3]). How well the two accounts match up appears to be a matter of opinion. In Paul Theroux's introduction to the 1981 version of Barbara's book, he says "Few journeys have been so well recorded, and there are few discrepancies and no contradictions between the two accounts".[3] However, in Michael Shapiro's 2004 book A Sense of Place: Great Travel Writers Talk about Their Craft, Lives, and Inspiration, he records Jonathan Raban saying Barbara's memoir "contradicts Greene's memoir on almost every point.. neither narrator agrees with the one other as to anything at all, where they were, who they saw, what they met, the condition of his illness, whatever. There is just no consonance between these two accounts".[4]

In 2009 the journey was retraced by the English writer and journalist Tim Butcher, former Africa correspondent for the Daily Telegraph and author of the bestselling book on the Democratic Republic of Congo, Blood River: A Journey to Africa's Broken Heart (2007). He was accompanied by fellow Englishman and Graham Greene aficionado David Poraj-Wilczynski. Butcher's account of their adventure was published as Chasing the Devil in 2010 by Random House.


  1. ^ Graham Greene (1936) Journey Without Maps (1957 Ed. P.216)
  2. ^ Pike, Duncan (2010). "The Innocence Abroad: Graham Greene in West Africa". The Graduate History Review. 2.
  3. ^ a b Barbara Greene. Too Late to Turn Back. ISBN 978-0-14-009594-4 (1991 re-print PB).
  4. ^ Michael Shapiro (2004). A Sense of Place: Great Travel Writers Talk about Their Craft, Lives, and Inspiration. (page 55).