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Dark Star Safari: Overland from Cairo to Cape Town Hardcover – March, 2003

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

"You'll have a terrible time," one diplomat tells Theroux upon discovering the prolific writer's plans to hitch a ride hundreds of miles along a desolate road to Nairobi instead of taking a plane. "You'll have some great stuff for your book." That seems to be the strategy for Theroux's extended "experience of vanishing" into the African continent, where disparate incidents reveal Theroux as well as the people he meets. At times, he goes out of his way to satisfy some perverse curmudgeonly desire to pick theological disputes with Christian missionaries. But his encounters with the natives, aid workers and occasional tourists make for rollicking entertainment, even as they offer a sobering look at the social and political chaos in which much of Africa finds itself. Theroux occasionally strays into theorizing about the underlying causes for the conditions he finds, but his cogent insights are well integrated. He doesn't shy away from the literary aspects of his tale, either, frequently invoking Conrad and Rimbaud, and dropping in at the homes of Naguib Mahfouz and Nadine Gordimer at the beginning and end of his trip. He also returns to many of the places where he lived and worked as a Peace Corps volunteer and teacher in the 1960s, locations that have cropped up in earlier novels. These visits fuel the book's ongoing obsession with his approaching 60th birthday and his insistence that he isn't old yet. As a travel guide, Theroux can both rankle and beguile, but after reading this marvelous report, readers will probably agree with the priest who observes, "Wonderful people. Terrible government. The African story."
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Theroux groans his way through Africa; the first single trip since The Pillars of Hercules.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; Later Printing edition (March 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0618134247
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618134243
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (259 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #589,325 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Paul Theroux's highly acclaimed novels include Blinding Light, Hotel Honolulu, My Other Life, Kowloon Tong, and The Mosquito Coast. His renowned travel books include Ghost Train to the Eastern Star, Dark Star Safari, Riding the Iron Rooster, The Great Railway Bazaar, The Old Patagonian Express, and The Happy Isles of Oceania. He lives in Hawaii and on Cape Cod.

Customer Reviews

If you've lived in Africa, you'll love reading Paul Theroux's account of his overland trip from Cairo to Capetown, off the beaten track.
Eva Melusine Thieme
Besides all that, the book is fascinating for Theroux's observations about people, history, and places, especially because he visits some very out-of-the way places.
J. Moran
The worst thing about this book is coming to the end and knowing that it will be years before Mr. Theroux decides, and actually does write another book like this.
Narut Ujnat

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

228 of 234 people found the following review helpful By D. K. Ferszt on May 16, 2004
Format: Paperback
I have lived in Africa for over 20 years, and recently completed a similar overland journey (Morocco to Cape Town). I am busy writing my own book, so was a little disappointed when the pre-eminent travel writer of our times released his own account. In any event, as a prelude to my own literary ambitions, I decided to read every book on the topic that I could find - and this one stands head and shoulders above the rest. (For those interested,' Running with the Moon' by Johnny Bealby, and `Africa Solo' by Kevin Kertscher were runners up).
Theroux travels with Africans in conditions which are unspeakable for those of us accustomed to jet travel, high speed trains and air-conditioned vehicles. He meets with many of Africa's literary icons, numerous dignitaries, and contacts from time spent in Africa 40 years previously. He is also not afraid to use his renown to gain access and audience where the rest of us would have no chance. Combine these factors with his considerable literary skill, and the result is an unrivalled publication.
His descriptions (notably the sunset on the East African plains) are breathtaking without being long-winded. He is able to contrast this with descriptions of squalor, hardship, the disintegrated infrastructure of the towns, and the transport used to travel between them . The various colleagues and friends he visits along the way, including the vice-president of Uganda, represent Africa's intellectual and political elite. Mostly, these people are enlightened, pro-active and deeply aware of the problems facing their countries. It is encouraging to read their discourse, as it is so easy to dismiss Africa as the stereotype of disenfranchised paupers governed by despotic tyrants.
His time spent in Africa during the 1960's was a time of liberation.
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76 of 82 people found the following review helpful By Mary Whipple HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on February 5, 2005
Format: Paperback
Forty years after being a Peace Corps worker in Malawi and a teacher in Uganda, Paul Theroux returns to Africa and finds things changed--for the worse. Now approaching his sixtieth birthday and wanting to escape from cell phones, answering machines, the daily newspaper, and being "put on hold," he is determined to travel from Cairo to Cape Town. He believes that the continent "contain[s] many untold tales and some hope and comedy and sweetness, too," and that there is "more to Africa than misery and terror."

Traveling alone by cattle truck, "chicken bus," bush train, matatu, rental car, ferry, and even dugout canoe, he tries to blend in as much as possible, buying clothing at secondhand stalls in public markets, carrying only one small bag, and avoiding the tourist destinations. He is an observant and insightful writer, and his descriptions of his travails are so vivid the reader can experience them vicariously. His interviews with residents are perceptive and very revealing of the political and social climate of these places, and his character sketches of Sister Alexandra from Ethiopia (a nun who "has loved") and of two charming Ethiopian traders, a father and son, who take Theroux to the Kenyan border, are delightful.

For most of the countries of Africa, however, he has no kind words. Kenya is "one of the most corrupt...countries in Africa," everything in Kampala, Uganda, has changed for the worse, and in Tanzania "there was only decline--simple linear decrepitude, and in some villages collapse." At the U.S. embassy in Malawi, he finds an "overpaid, officious, disingenuous, blame-shifting...embassy hack" and, in pique, he wonders, "Had she, like me, been abused, terrified, stranded, harassed, cheated, bitten, flooded, insulted, exhausted, robbed, browbeaten, poisoned?
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33 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Candace Siegle, Greedy Reader on March 17, 2003
Format: Hardcover
To paraphrase P.J. O'Rourke, anyone who think it's one world haven't had to use a foreign bathroom recently. It's that same spirit that I like about Paul Theroux: he hitchhikes, he paddles, he takes the train, he hangs off the side of a bus, he goes to all sorts of rare places and tells us exactly what they are like. In "Dark Star Safari: Overland from Cairo to Cape Town," he returns to Africa for the first time since leaving in the late 1960s, and his journey is as riveting and his reportage as merciless as any writing he has done.
Paul Theroux was in the Peace Corps in Africa in the early 1960s until he was ejected from the Corps for giving a member of an opposition political party a ride to neighboring Uganda. That same friend--who later became Malawi's ambassador to the United Nations--got Theroux a job at the college where he had become headmaster. Theroux stayed there as a professor until leaving Africa in the late '60's.
Having left so much of Africa hopefully poised for independence and rebirth, he returns to travel through one ravaged kleptocracy after the next; countries where the most common greeting to foreigners has become "give me money." And why shouldn't they expect another handout? Aid programs abound, pouring billions of dollars, or francs, or marks into countries where the people seem unable to lift a finger to help themselves. Everything, everywhere, is filthy. Foreign doctors work in hospitals for low salaries that African doctors refuse to accept. Theroux is approaching 60 years old on this trip, a milestone that so few Africans reach that many people cannot conceive of the number being connected with age. What happened here?
The saddest chapter in "Dark Star Safari" is when he visits the college where he taught in Malawi.
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