- Paperback: 496 pages
- Publisher: Mariner Books; Reprint edition (April 5, 2004)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0618446877
- ISBN-13: 978-0618446872
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.1 x 8.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars See all reviews (333 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #207,570 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Dark Star Safari: Overland from Cairo to Capetown Paperback – April 5, 2004
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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. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
From Library Journal
Theroux groans his way through Africa; the first single trip since The Pillars of Hercules.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
Vivid descriptions of places and people I will never experience with controversial and unfortunately repetitive opinions about aid workers and put downs of tourists, probably most of his readers
I tend to believe him about aid workers because I've met a few back home living very well and resent him about tourists because I am one, plus he ends his book going on a five trophy safari himself so hypocrisy is not a fault he avoids
However accurate his depiction of aid workers in their brand new range rovers is, it is hard to believe they are the cause of African poverty and corruption and he ends with a glowing description of South Africa that would more logically lead you to conclude that blacks are the problem and they should have kept whites in charge
Theroux set out to take an overland journey from Cairo to Capetown, and to write about it. In doing so he manages, in slightly less than 500 pages, to encapsulate the sad story of the last 40+ years of African history. In many ways, this is a sad, even tragic book. Theroux remembers when Africa was full of hope. Newly freed from the ravages and exploitation of colonialism, Africa was full of optimism. Determined to free themselves from dependence on the west, most newly independent countries opted for socialism and were very cozy with the Soviet Union and Maoist China. This, according to Theroux, was what led to their downfall. Central planning led to one party dictatorships throughout the continent, and in turn to incompetence and corruption, and in some cases, tyranny and mass murder. Theroux's journey documents many of the aftereffects of these events.
Most of the people Theroux meets on his journey are ordinary people who have no idea who he is. However, Theroux is not remiss to use his stature as a world famous writer to gain access to literary gatherings, to public officials, some of whom are old friends from his Peace Corps days, and on one occasion to the U.S. embassy. Good for him; the book is better as a result. It was difficult not to seethe with rage at the pompous African official who mocks the Indian merchants who were kicked out of the country for going through their stores with a calculator tallying the value of each item in the store. Theroux explains that this is simply taking inventory, a basic tool necessary to the efficient running of a business. The official scoffs at this, saying that Africans just aren't cut out for that sort of thing, something Theroux bluntly characterizes as "bullshit." As a result of this type of thinking, the merchant shops which used to appear in nearly every village in Africa, and which were intended to be run by Africans after the Indians were forced to leave, now lie vacant.
This is a theme that Theroux pursues relentlessly: the unwillingness of Africans to learn the skills and to put in the effort needed to remedy their dire situation. He places the blame for this not only on the governments, but also on aid organizations, NGOs, and missionaries, all of whom engage in handouts, resulting in the Africans' failure to help themselves. Theroux seems personally stressed by this as well. At one point he snaps at a man who asks him for money just after Theroux has been very ill, asking the man why he should give him money. Aren't you a man, he says, can't you take care of himself? He also paints a harrowing picture of the takeover of white-owned farms by government sanctioned squatters in Zimbabwe, with the expected result that the farms become much less productive than they were before, with the squatters expecting the farmers to do everything from giving them seeds to helping them plant to threshing the grain.
I don't wish to give the impression that Theroux's portrayal of present day Africa is totally negative. He meets many individuals, black and white, of whom he paints a positive picture. There are an African father and son who help him travel by canoe across a national boundary. There is even a nun for whom Theroux seems to have a very high regard. And he esteems Nadine Gordimer. But most of his portraits are scathing.
In spite of my praise and high regard for the book, I did not give it 5 stars because I think Theroux fails to mention anything at all about indigenous African society, by which I mean society at the tribal level. I think Theroux knows very well that African societies function very well at this level. The blunt truth is that the mess that Africa finds itself in today is the direct result of colonialism, and that the western forms of government that Africans seem unable to get to function well are artificial forms imposed on their indigenous cultures. This does not excuse present day Africans from their responsibility to learn to cope with the situation as it is, but Theroux lets the west off the hook far too easily. He also fails to mention that there is a kind of rough justice involved in the African squatters taking over the white-owned farms, because in most cases the ancestors of the present day farmers themselves stole the land from Africans. But the positives of this book far outweigh the negatives. Highly recommended for anyone interested in contemporary Africa.
I enjoy travelogues and I look forward to reading more Paul Theroux.