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In Dark Star Safari The Wittily Observant And Endearingly Irascible Paul Theroux Takes Readers The Length Of Africa By Rattletrap Bus, Dugout Canoe, Cattle Truck, Armed Convoy, Ferry, And Train In The Course Of His Epic And Enlightening Journey, He Endures Danger, Delay, And Dismaying CircumstancesGauging The State Of Affairs, He Talks To Africans, Aid Workers, Missionaries, And Tourists What Results Is An Insightful Mediation On The History, Politics, And Beauty Of Africa And Its PeopleIn A New Postscript, Theroux Recounts The Dramatic Events Of A Return To Africa To Visit Zimbabwe


10 thoughts on “Dark Star Safari

  1. says:

    Grrrrr Oh how this man irritates yet enthrals me I have just tramped down through Africa in the footsteps of Theroux, sighing and tsking, yet unable to put the book down This man is a genius writer, yet so darn cantankerous, curmudgeonly and scathing that he made me want to throw the book on the floor and mash it Even when he relishes a place, it often seems that it is the dirt, the stink and the squalor that inspires him It s a kind of machismo Proof that he isn t a tourist, but a bona fide explorer and traveller.Yet he does take us where we tender visitors on river cruises and to safari lodges would fear to go He gets under the fingernails of Africa, on one heck of a magnificent journey down the spine of this vast continent There were some places I was fascinated to read about like Malawi, Zimbabwe, South Africa, and the wilderness of the Shire River and some I found boring like Egypt, or his travels across Lake Victoria But all the time he kept pulling us forward through this often torturous land Time and time again he shows us how subsistence farming and subsistence living have replaced the grandiose stamp of colonial history, and he conveys both respect and disgust for these changes He spits vitriolically at the idea of aid to Africa, and the culture of dependence that he feels it has created Herewith an extract about his views about charity in Milawi view spoiler The working of society was in the hands of charities, running orphanages, staffing hospitals, doing triage in the pathetic education system They were saving lives you couldn t fault them but in general I despaired at the very sight of aid workers, as no than a maintenance crew on a power trip, who had turned Malawians into beggers and whiners, and development into a study in futility hide spoiler


  2. says:

    WHY do I keep reading books by this man For some unknown reason I assume that I ll garner some great knowledge form his books or be amused than frustrated Thus far not Instead I m annoyed by his arrogance and his assumption that he s different from other white people in Africa because he knows that the aide system is faulty or because he lived there in the 60 s Just because you have a backpack and a history with Africa doesn t make you an expert, and Theroux whining about the fact that Africa hasn t lived up to its promise since he was there last only makes him look like all the people he criticizes He wants Africa to make leaps and bounds in its economic and political policy, but then how would he be able to write so endearingly of the street urchins and the poverty After all, seeing those things and writing about them makes him strong and experienced, right I agree that the current Western participation in African affairs is getting Africa nowhere, but I don t assume that makes me a genius or that I have my finger on the pulse of African issues If you want to write a book about Africa, write about AFRICA and about how cool you are because you can travel there and not have any concern for your safety If you want to write a travel book, write a travel book and don t be so bloody sanctimonious Don t travel in crappy cars or eat bad food just so you can prove that you ve lived like an African How condescending, to assume that Africans don t know anything better.Can anyone tell that this guy annoys me And yet, I ll probably read another of his books because I want to actually feel like he s not as much of a schmuck as I think he is I can admit that the book has some insightful or well written passages, but in general I think it s another white person thinking he s got Africa down Shut it I ll bet he took a big bottle of hand sanitizer everywhere he went, he just didn t write about that.


  3. says:

    Planes, trains and automobiles and a ferry rickety, smelly mini buses a dugout canoe, taxis and a cattle truck.I give mad props to Theroux for humping it from Cairo to Cape Town at the age of 59, but this type of transport he only used a plane once to fly into Khartoum would scare away the discerning traveler me This makes me even grateful for Theroux s firsthand account of Africa.Foreshadowing book spoiler He quotes and draws comparisons from Joseph Conrad s Heart of Darkness A lot I like to read the occasional travelogue A good travel writer gives you a window into their adventures, combining wit, history and insight into the present day doings of the area country continent they are visiting As to humor Bill Bryson thankfully looks for the punch line, Theroux s humor is of the curmudgeonly sort here, for example, pointing out the contradictory nature of the work of missionaries and aid workers He spends pages raking a missionary over the proverbial coals using his own thorough knowledge of the Bible to continually punch holes in her arguments As much as I love a good verbal pummeling of a hypocrite, this was, even for me, excessive.After traveling through several of the poorer countries of Africa, and, although many aid workers have their hearts in the right place, he sees foreign aid rapidly removing all incentive from Africans to do things for themselves The vicious cycle goes like this Country despots skim off significant portions of aid for themselves, little of it, if any, ever reaching the intended, who remain poor, jobless and hungry, thus drawing the need for still aid.Theroux s book isn t a total festival of misanthropy He visits old friends he was in the Peace Corp , makes new friends, hangs out with hookers, and generally appreciates the pace, beauty and otherness that is Africa.So far the Theroux travel books have been engaging enough to want to continue reading them a decent mix of humor, history and bumpy rides.Theroux s Bottom line African cities are a mess the true generous and open spirit of the African people still exists in the villages.And here s the requisite wacky movie see above gif Is that a Nubian Banana or are you just happy to wake up next to me see my updates below if you really require an explanation


  4. says:

    This was my first Theroux and, on finishing it, I couldn t fully judge of the tone of a book that was written near what will likely be the end of his career, after a certain cynicism has taken root Since then, I ve read The Great Railway Bazaar his first travel book and now a good chunk of Ghost Train.First, it has to be said that this book is very NOT P.C to say the least Theroux has what often appears to be an open and unapologetic contempt for many of the black Africans he meets and describes certainly a contempt for what they ve made of themselves and of their societies There is a contempt for the entire African ThirdWorld AID industry whose representatives he sneeringly refers to as agents of virtue , those smug, insulated, liberal do gooders riding about in their large, white Land Rovers, hanging around the fancy swimming pools of the luxury hotels, never mingling with the people they claim to help, not even willing to lend a hand to a stranded white man in need of a ride, spending wads of OPM Other People s Money not simply in ways that are unhelpful, but in ways Theroux believes that are positively harmful He cites books like The Lords of Poverty and The Road to Hell, as well the opinions of many Africans black and white who confirm this bias he may be right in this I m in no position to judge On the other hand, he shows great sympathy for the white South African and formerly Rhodesian farmers, who many of us would tend to view as being reactionary forces I wouldn t be surprised if this book brought down upon Theroux swampy head a heap of anger and, indeed, charges of out and out racism.But it s not so simple, because he also quite obviously has a deep love and respect for the old African societies he viewed so hopefully in his youth, when he spent 3 years in the Peace Corp in Malawi and had during the years of his early friendship with V.S Naipaul a Nigerian girlfriend He seems albeit in his wholly curmudgeonly way to be motivated not by race hatred, but by an absence of white guilt quite a different thing So, when people shout out to him, Hey, White Man , he gets fed up and says Hey, you want me to call you Hey, Black Man and people that is, Blacks respond, not surprisingly, in a positive way to this bold assertion of his own rights to individuality People respect you when you respect yourself.Theroux is, indeed, quite the cosmopolites fleeing the artificiality of the developed world, in search of the authentic, of the noble savage , if you will , if such remains and he is an experienced and exuberant libertine for all his protestations of restraint for whom there must have been than a little of the Richard Burton lurking in his wanderings.Is this racism Well , it is a slippery slope, no doubt Nor is Theroux an entirely admirable personality As a writer, even at his best, there is always something of the hack about him Some of the writing in Safari is particularly cheesy, and his best works, his travel writings I ve never read the novels , are largely based on a formula and gimmick His cynicism and the occasional mawkishness are well known And his history with Naipaul, for all his self justifications Sir Vidia s Shadow , leaves something to be desired on BOTH sides it must be said, in reading this late work pub in 2002 that Theroux is someone who seems to have grown, and to have grown better and deeper, and urgent , which is not often the case with men women, perhaps, are different , who are frequently diminished by success and by aging For all his flaws, in other words, Theroux has increasing been willing to look the beast the beast of his personal weaknesses, of his mortality, and of his love nay, his lust for life a love ultimately doomed by the facts of nature directly in the eye And the result is a certain poignancy and beauty that is fully in evidence in this wonderful book.This book is a redux Having lived and traveled long ago in Africa, just during the period around Independence, he decided to go again in 2001 or thereabouts , and to travel alone, without lots of money and without any entourage, by bus, train, walking each stage of the route dictated by chance from one end of Africa Cairo Xto the other Cape Town , along the Eastern half, through Ethiopia, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Malawai, South Africa, sleeping in cheap hotels or hovels, on busted down rusty buses and trains, basically bumming thru Africa And this, without a phone or blackberry, not as a 25 year old or a 34 year old Great Railway Bazaar , but at the age of 60 This was quite feat, as those of you who are in your mere twenties will someday realize.And what he saw was that Africa, so hopeful in 1972, has become ruinous Ruinous because of the effects of colonialization because of the effects of freedom, and corruption, and the profound and dire incompetence of the Africans themselves because of the AID agencies who build Dams and projects that no one will ever use, instead of helping the Africans thatch their roofs because of the stupidity both of modernity AND of those who will not be so easily modernized.His description of the Grand Hotel in the town of Beira, Mozambique 347 , a huge colonial skeletal structure facing the Indian Ocean, decrepit, had been taken over by plunderers and invaders These homeless people were living in the guest rooms and had cooking fires going on the balconies and had rigged up tends on the verandas Some were emptying buckets of shit over the rails their laundry hung limp on strong up lines The building was a vast crumbling pile of broken stucco and rusted railings, filled with ragged squatters Smoke issued from most of the rooms I supposed that for some people this looked like the past, but to me it had the haunted look of a desperate distant future, an intimation of how the world would end, the Third World luxury resorts turned into squatters camps Cp the collapse and ruin of Mbeya, in Tanzania, at 270f Or the story of the Wagogo, living in the hot, dusted, ruined plains of Tanzania, 30 of them huddled under the shade of a single tree to escape from the blasted rays of the midday sun but who never thought, to escape from this, simply to plant a few extra treesAt any rate this is a powerful and moving book, despite its flaws.


  5. says:

    Near the end of Paul Theroux s north south journey across the African continent, from Cairo to Cape Town, he allows himself the luxury of a swanky South African train trip, a rare mode of transportation for this usually spartan traveler in this fascinating trek on board cattle trucks, minivans packed to the roof with Africans, rickety matutus, canoes and proper boats During a train stop a child begs in a prayerful way Theroux, from the train, can t bring himself to toss food to her After the train starts, the girl flings stones through his window, just missing him Such What do you do moments in relation to charity are a big part of this journey for Theroux, who, as a white man, is descended upon by Africans of every age almost everywhere he goes For the poor on the continent, begging is a way of life.On a bigger scale, attempts to help Africans help themselves through endless charity is counterproductive Money goes in the pockets of corrupt politicians, aid is resold Foreigners had been helping them so long that Africans lost interest and motivation.But there s much to Theroux s travels than gripes about donor nations And on this safari, it is people, not animals, Theroux seeks out Thirty five years after Theroux lived in Africa as a Peace Corps volunteer and teacher, he returns in 2000 or thereabouts to find the continent worse off than he left it He finds countries poor and dangerous, mean cities of little hope.Theroux s tale acquires dark momentum the closer he gets to the equator Starting out amid pyramids and Sudanese proving irresistible to European types We find Nubian banana , he seeks people he knew from his Peace Corps days and ordinary strangers who have contempt for him because of the color of his skin or who want nothing than to go to America people trying to take advantage of him or treating him with real kindness We do not love Theroux, but we cannot help but admire his courage in often taking the most difficult route possible and for his sharp way with words His pace is leisurely he doesn t have a schedule, and his family doesn t know where he is He likes it.Theroux covers many aspects of African life Waiting for a visa, waiting for transportation In a place where time seemed to matter so little, there existed a nihilism that was also a form of serenity and a survival skill ancient infrastructure, vehicles, buildings That s what happened in Africa things fell apart dangerous types said to be around the bend There are bad people there, the direst warning, heard time and time again those trying to help, with varying degrees of real commitment Aid workers are the last to offer travelers assistance hopelessness of city life African cities became awful desperate and dangerous as they grew larger It s not all hopeless the journey has its funny and uplifting moments , and not all of Dark Star Safari is concerned with black Africans there are white Africans too, of course, and the horrors of the government sanctioned seizure of white farmers land in Zimbabwe and the brutal murder of whites and the frustrations of whites in the new South Africa who now live in a far just society but find themselves on the outside looking in, are touched upon.Theroux likes all this, the grains of hope, the beauty of Africa, its contradictions and horrors I had fulfilled one of my fondest yearnings at the outset of my trip, for this was the territory I lit out for, and cruising down this empty river in a hollow log was pure Huck Finn pleasure It s a pleasure for us, too, but an often disturbing one.


  6. says:

    For me this is the best Paul Theroux that I have read.It was better in my opinion that his other travel non fiction The Great Railway Bazaar By Train Through Asia, The Old Patagonian Express, Riding the Iron Rooster By Train Through China , and I think there are a couple of reasons.Firstly, in Dark Star Safari the travel was not all by train This meant there was to write about In his other books which I also enjoyed don t get me wrong , there is only so much he can describe about the train itself, and the method of travel This book opened the door for descriptive writing about travel method.Secondly, and probably importantly, while Theroux was his usual pessimistic, fault finding, negative self, he was being far accurate with his assessment of Africa What I mean is, in other books where he tears into the people, the places the culture, they are often not all as bad as he makes them out to be In this book, a lot often than not, the situations he describes negatively are in fact pretty dire So this brings an accuracy to his pessimism Thirdly, Theroux has an opinion which he spends a lot of the book discussing his premise that continued foreign aid in Africa has a negative effect rather than a positive effect and this lets him examine and re examine with examples this theory The fact I buy into this, probably makes this book enjoyable for me as a reader.So to the book Theroux travels overland mostly there was a short ride in a small plane due to border difficulties from Cairo to Capetown He takes in Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and South Africa Some places he is visiting for the first time, others he is returning to, and has a frame of reference He spent time in Malawi in the Peace Corps, and as a teacher in Uganda, so has some comparisons to make there.Along the way, he makes literary references some involving people he knows and meets, others purely by reference He also reconnected with people he knew from his previous time in Africa, including the President of Uganda I had some good friends really funny ones My best friend was a guy called Apolo Nsibambi We shared an office at the Extra Mural Department at Makerere, and then I got a promotion became Acting Director and I was his boss I used to tease him for calling himself Doctor he had a Ph D in political science I mocked him for wearing a tie and carrying a briefcase and being pompous I went to his wedding He came to my wedding And then I completely lost touch with him I wonder what happened to him Doctor Nsibambi is the Prime Minister of Uganda All up, one of the best books I have read this year Five stars.


  7. says:

    This book was a great read for a student of international development relations I understand the author s cynicism, admire his risktaking, and appreciate his insight into the impact of decades of foreign intervention in Africa I didn t feel he was overly arrogant for a journey of this depth and magnitude it certainly added to the story, for better or worse It was an enjoyable read, full of analysis, rather than simply description.


  8. says:

    Theroux is a pompous ass A just compelling enough pompous ass.


  9. says:

    Mayn This flipping book was an endlessly patronizing, infinitely tedious rant from a burdened white man Perhaps the most annoying travel book I read Gah Take 54 seats Paul Theroux I d recommend Dark Continent My Black Arse if you re looking for a Cape to Cairo travelogue Infinitely better.Edit This article This article right here is The Truth While the review is about The Last Train to Zona Verde My Ultimate African Safari, it might as well have been reviewing this book Excerpts As Theroux watchers will know, his sub Saharan travelogues read as if he had taken Binyavanga Wainaina s sarcastic instructions on How to Write About Africa literally He is, as the sharp eyed blog Africa Is a Country remarks, so reliable that way He mints generalisations and insults at such a clip that they soon begin to outstrip even the most gifted parodist The rhetoric is so offensive and plain bizarre to anyone making her or his life in Africa that I had no option but to pretend that we were in a different genre, to keep imagining the book as a comic novel with a deliberately unlikeable narrator.Bankrupt in ways than one, then, this is a book I would recommend only as a teaching aid or to someone interested in tracking the final sub Conradian wreckage of a genre, rusting away like the hulks of tanks that so fascinate the narrator along the roads in Angola It is imbued not just with the narrator s old age but the senescence of an entire genre And there you have it Don t waste your money on this book.


  10. says:

    A trek through the heart of Modern Africa16 May 2015 Well, I have already written three blogposts worth of thoughts on this really interesting book, however I will simply touch on a few important points for those of you who don t have the time or the inclination to read through what I have written elsewhere and the links to those posts are below Anyway, this is the diary of a journey that the author took from Cairo, across the African continent, to Cape Town His original intention was to travel entirely by land, however since the Sudanese border was closed and the fact that he wanted to travel legitimately, meaning no sneaking over the border, and no bribing officials a couple of legs were by plane Anyway, Theroux had been in Africa in the 60s, first as a teacher in Malawi and then as a university lecturer in Uganda However due to the deteriorating situation in Uganda at the time he, and his wife decided to leave and ended up settling in England Years later Theroux decided that he wanted to go back to Africa and visit some of these places to see what had changed, but to also simply escape and wander across the continent completely cut off from the modern world The story of his journey, while not necessarily eye opening, is interesting to say the least The first theme that comes up regularly in the book is that of the modern tourist industry, an industry that Theroux really does not particularly like In a way the industry is simply another form of entertainment where tourists go and see a sanitised version of the continent, whether it be to the ruins of Ancient Egypt, the big game parks of central and southern Africa, or the cheap coastal resorts Okay, I must admit that I quite enjoy travelling myself, however I have also experienced this modern industry where travel agents do their best to book you into some of the most expensive hotels simply to jack up their commissions, and where you are shielded from the worst excesses of some of these countries In places like Tanzania the tourist enters via a shiny new airport and is whisked away by minibus on sealed road to the game parks What they do not see is the grinding poverty and the decaying infrastructure off of the main route Decay is another thing that is repeated throughout the book Africa in many cases is a land that is in decay, and in a way it is simply because the locals do not have the mindset that those of us in the developed west have While we may be regularity repairing our homes and maintaining our roads, the Africans have never really done that in the past and the only reason much of this infrastructure was built was thanks to the European settlers As the wave of independence spread across the continent many of the colonial governments were expelled to be replaced by governments consisting of the local people, people who had no experience in running a modern state and people who too easily succumb to corruption While western countries may give aid to the government, or provide assistance with trade, much of this money never makes it to the community level and instead disappears as soon as it hits the minister s desk Theroux seems to be very critical with regards to the aid industry, and while I am only going by his word, in a way I am not surprised The question that is raised is why is it that many of these countries are still living in abject poverty despite all of this money and all of the agencies working here tirelessly for decades Theroux suggests that a part of it is because aid is big business, and if these countries were lifted out of poverty then there would no longer be any work for them Another suggestion is that these organisations don t educate the local population, but rather do everything for them For instance they dig wells and the build schools, and then they leave, and while the community may have this brand spanking new building, they don t really know how to keep it in good condition, and as such it begins to decay Another thing is that these countries are really cheap and this provides young aid workers an adventure that doesn t cost all that much Thus they can sit in their resorts sipping margaritas by the pool, and then go out performing some project that in the end will do nothing for the community I guess it all comes down to the old axiom give a man a fish and feed him for a day, but teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime Don t get me wrong, I believe aid agencies do a lot of good for many of the communities that they help Sure, Theroux suggested that these agencies love disasters because it brings them money in the form of donations, but famines are even better because while a natural disaster may occupy the minds of the western world for a couple of weeks, a famine can last a lot longer It is with disasters that these agencies really begin to shine because many of these countries do not have the infrastructure, or even the resources, to be able to deal with the consequences of a disaster, which means that these agencies can get feet on the ground to supply food and medical aid quickly, which helps prevent the spread of diseases While the disaster may have an immediately effect, if help does not come quickly, disease can quickly take hold and end up leaving a much, much greater death toll Yet these is also the problem with the fact that if you simply give things to people then these people become to expect these gifts Some may scoff at the idea that giving a beggar money only works to encourage them, but the sad truth is that in many cases it does I have even heard stories that here in Australia backpackers will pose as beggars to top up their travelling allowance Granted, there are people out there that are genuinely in dire straights in particular the mentally ill that simply cannot take care of themselves Rent increases are increasingly marginalising people and pushing them out onto the streets, and when somebody hits the street, it is very hard for them to turn their life back around However there is some truth to the fact that simply by giving money to people doesn t necessarily help them, it simply rewards them for in effect doing nothing This is also why I have concerns about giving houses to the homeless Don t get me wrong, I believe that everybody should have a roof over their head, but then there are many of us who work really hard to maintain that roof over our head while others are misusing their funds and regularly getting bailed out by the government, and it is not just the undeserving poor, it is the corporate world as well Anyway, I ll finish off there, though this is sounding like I have suddenly drifted far over to the right This is not the case because not everybody has the skills or the ability to sell themselves that others have However everybody should be entitled to receiving a far rewards for the work that they put in, but some people just find it really hard to find work This is where I believe assistance needs to be provided, not by simply giving people money, but by providing meaningful work that pays a decent wage so that they might also participate in society oh and also getting rid of the advertising industry that uses psychological manipulation to enslave the masses into a debt that they cannot ever pay back Part one of my post can be found here Part two of my post can be found here Part three of my post can be found here.