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Dark Star Safari: Overland from Cairo to Capetown Paperback – April 5, 2004
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Kirkus Reviews, Starred
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.
No mere tale of travel mishaps....Safari is Swahili for journey, and Theroux's is truly fantastic. Library Journal Starred
Few recent books provide such a litany of Africa's ills, even as they make one fall in love with the continent.
The Washington Post
Theroux, one suspects, could be a headache to travel with; resourceful, courageous and indefatigable, as well as crusty, opinionated and contradictory. But listening to him recount his adventures... is another matter. He can make you forget to eat, this man.
The San Francisco Chronicle
Reading Theroux may make you cancel your plane tickets and settle in at home instead for a great read. The sometime novelist is at his most masterful with DARK STAR SAFARI. (A) Entertainment Weekly
Armchair travelers will wish the book went on twice as long -- and that is something, considering that the book runs more than 400 pages. This is a masterwork by a master writer.
Paul Theroux. Travel. Africa. You need a better reason to read?
The San Diego Union-Tribune
The next best thing to going to Africa is to read (compulsively) this account by Paul Theroux of his overland expedition from Cairo to Capetown.
[Theroux] is at his writerly best when conveying the beauty and wonder of Africa.
The Miami Herald
A gritty lesson in history, politics, aid relief and tourism; a middle-aged man's meditation on life and travel; and, above all, a masterpiece of observations that makes sense of senseless chaos and staggering wonder. Readers will be glad Therous made the trip.
Town and Country
DARK STAR SAFARI reveals the mystery of Africa, a continent of incredible disparity and resilience.
This new travelogue ... is perhaps his most captivating work of perigrination since The Great Railway Bazaar.
The Chicago Sun-Times
Theroux is the thinking man's travel writer; in a seemingly casual, wandering fashion, he delivers a complete portrait of a continent's people, politics and economy. Bookpage
Part of "Dark Star Safari" is pure entertainment; travelogue in a grand, epic style. But Theroux also offers a sobering, contemporary look at the social and political morass in which much of Africa is mired.
If you have even the slightest interest in Africa, travel, good writing, the modern world, the future, cities, nature, human society, love, courage--well, life in general--you are going to have to be called to the dinner table six times before you put this book down. The Chicago Tribune
I know and have traveled in Africa, so I can proclaim with admiration that Theroux, the disheveled, often grumpy, sometimes euphoric sojourner who shares his latest adventures in Dark Star Safari, is an intrepid traveler worthy of the reputation that precedes him. The Houston Chronicle
opinionated but informed, and highly readable.
A marvel of observation.... Theroux is near faultless in his expression of material about Africa, a continent where he taught 40 years ago, and which he clearly loves.
You won't find this trip advertised in travel brochures, but it's well worth taking vicariously.
Atlanta Journal Constitution
Neither a sensationalistic reveler in the pain of others, nor a hopeless romantic, Theroux chronicles a journey through an Africa full of decay and beauty, fear and joy, misery and perseverance. Denver Rocky Mountain News
Dark Star Safari is by turns hilarious and harrowing. It is an exploration of change, both in Africa -- its ruined cities, its confouding beauty -- and in Theroux's own life.
Have no fear, Paul Theroux is as grumpy as ever. In this maddening, exhilarating, frustrating and thoroughly entertaining journey through Africa, Theroux is at his bracing best...
The Chicago Tribune
This is the most passionate and exciting of Theroux's half-dozen major travel books.
The Associated Press
an exciting adventure tale, filled with fabulously wonderful characters.
Santa Cruz Sentinal
[Theroux's] witty observations and obvious love and curiosity for Africa should help make this entertaining epic a yardstick for future travel writing.
The Daily Yomiuri
[Theroux's] storytelling and eye for detail are unmatched.
The Los Angeles Times
Still the dean of this genre, the irascible Theroux is the ideal companion for armchair travel.
The Los Angeles Times
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I've always wondered at the popularity of Theroux as a travel writer, because of this negativity and the sense that he doesn't much enjoy what he does. But I never knew his work to contain such inaccuracies until I read the East Africa section of Dark Star Safari. For example, in a single paragraph he completely bungled the geography/geology of the entire region when he tried to explain the region's volcanism. First, he claims that Oldoinyo Lengai is in Rwanda, while it actually lies in Tanzania, and though he is correct in stating that it is still an active volcano, it does not regularly displace villages like he claims since major eruptions only happen once or twice a century and besides, there are no "villages" within a six-hour drive, but rather the temporary bomas of the nomadic Maasai. Then, while he accurately stated that Kilimanjaro is a dormant volcano, he also claimed that Uganda's Mountains of the Moon (aka Rwenzoris) are "dormant" - except that they are a non-volcanic range!
While these inaccuracies could be overlooked or chalked up to Mr. Theroux and the publishing house's fact-checkers not knowing their geology, more troubling is Theroux's seeming lack of understanding of Tanzanian culture. While being constantly called "mzungu" ("white person" or "foreigner" in Swahili, and by the way Theroux spells it wrong) can be an annoyance, it is not at all a word of disrespect, let alone racial profiling as Theroux has the audacity to refer to it. And while he is annoyed at being called "wewe, mzee" (you, old man), the word "mzee" is generally reserved for those who command respect. While Theroux's bellyaching over being called old may have been a weak attempt at self-effacing humor, it was out of place and showed a shocking lack of understanding for someone who supposedly lived on the continent as a peace corps worker. The warmth and friendliness of East Africa's people is completely ignored, and it seems the only dialogues included in Theroux's work are conversations with locals who are as down on the place as he is. In reality the majority of East Africans are extremely proud of their home.
I get the impression Theroux thinks awfully highly of himself as a traveler, but his slamming of young backpackers and rich safari-goers as not encountering or understanding the real Africa like he does comes across as laughable considering he really misses the boat a number of times himself. At least some of us lowly backpackers take the time to appreciate the people, culture and wonderful things to be experienced there.
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. Nationalist movements were gaining momentum, and Africans were giddy at the prospect of independence from their colonial overlords. Theroux is almost certainly unique in that he witnessed the Africa of then, and the Africa of now (but nothing of the in between) and is able to communicate his observations to a large, receptive audience. This perspective adds another level to the book which sets it apart.
Much is said about charities, missionaries and NGO's, both by Theroux, and the various others who have reviewed this book. I agree entirely with Theroux's observations. I found that the personnel working with these agencies seemed disdainful towards those of us who were really enjoying Africa, and often arrogant towards those they were professing to help. Their efforts nurture some of the most contemptible qualities of the African condition, turning them into subjugated beggars rather than empowering their independence. The deployment of aid does not improve lives, but merely provides the necessary resources required for reproduction - more aid recipients, all now living at the previous, lowest common denominator. Much of the aid is taken by the local chiefs, and is traded in the markets (lest we forget, America fought a battle in Somalia over this very issue, see the movie `Black Hawk Down'). It may seem anathema to our sensibilities that Theroux is so scathing of these worthy men and women who have given up so much to go and help the dispossessed, but if the aid is counter-productive, even if only by Theroux's estimation, then he has the right (obligation?) to communicate it to us.
Theroux is particularly scathing of one missionary whose efforts involve reforming the `sinful' ways of African prostitutes. In the USA prostitution may be a crime, but in Africa, he points out, it is the only channel of independence and financial freedom for women. It should be considered criminal that we are going there and preaching some dogma based on our value system, which is intended to deprive them of their livelihood. And this goes to the root of the issue, Theroux says. We are trying to solve their problems from our perspective, while driving around in a fancy white Landcruiser, the value of which is the entire life's earnings of a whole African family. African problems need African solutions run by Africans (with help from outside if necessary). They need dignity, empowerment and education - not grain, medicine and preaching. I think Theroux does a great job of communicating this - even if it does ruffle some philanthropic feathers in the process.
Why didn't I give the book five stars? Well, I feel that Theroux didn't give sufficient credence to the majority of proud Africans who lead the free and happy existence to which we all aspire. As a white traveler in Africa one is continuously exposed to the `Give me money' syndrome. But this represents only a minute percentage of the population - those who await foreign travelers at bus stations, hotels and markets. These hustlers are a by-product of most societies - there were 8 million in Los Angeles by my last estimation. It took me at least two months of cultural immersion before I was able to transcend this exposure, and meet real Africans who were interested in my travels and reasons for being in Africa - people who I had to seek out. Indeed, most Africans are contented, hard-working individuals unaffected by the tribulations of modern western society, let alone of their own autocratic governments whose influence over their own population is token compared to what we are used to in the west. African society thrived for millennia before the ancestors of western society even left the continent. It is cultural arrogance to assume that we need to impose our new-found values on them. Sure there are pockets of famine, abusive dictators and colonial fall-out - but for the vast majority of the continent's population, life goes on unabated. It is mostly their exposure to our society (fancy white landcruisers, satellite TV etc.) that might give them cause to kowtow. It is Theroux' failure to acknowledge this, or at least comment upon it, that I feel is the only shortcoming of an otherwise outstanding account.
If you haven't lived in Africa or even traveled there, you'll also love Dark Star Safari. There will be no better way to let you experience what Africa is all about short of actually going there. Theroux's anecdotes are sometimes comical, sometimes sad, sometimes frightening, but always ring very true. He goes out of his way to meet the local people and hear their stories, some of which won't leave you for a very long time.
I've done my share of travel writing and can unequivocally say that the crappier your experience, the better the story. On a similar vein, one of the acquaintance Theroux makes along the way observes it best: "You're going to Nairobi by road? Well, of course you are. Flying there would be too simple for you. It'll take a week or more. You'll have a terrible time. You'll have some great stuff for your book."
Most recent customer reviews
Just when he thinks he's completed his treck with his guts still intact...Paul gets hit with the crud. Silly mzungu, Africa wins every time! Fun read
Vivid descriptions of places and people I will never experience...Read more