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Dark Star Safari: Overland from Cairo to Capetown (2002)

by Paul Theroux

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
2,029556,889 (3.92)72
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 circumstances.Gauging the state of affairs, he talks to Africans, aid workers, missionaries, and tourists. What results is an insightful meditation on the history, politics, and beauty of Africa and its people, and "a vivid portrayal of the secret sweetness, the hidden vitality, and the long-patient hope that lies just beneath the surface" (Rocky Mountain News). In a new postscript, Theroux recounts the dramatic events of a return to Africa to visit Zimbabwe.… (more)
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    The Last Train to Zona Verde: My Ultimate African Safari by Paul Theroux (John_Vaughan)
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    Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton (lauranav)
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    A Tourist in Africa by Evelyn Waugh (John_Vaughan)
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    Journey Without Maps by Graham Greene (John_Vaughan)
    John_Vaughan: Both authors felt deeply about Africa and Greene wrote several works on this theme of inner and actual African travel. Paul returns to his Peace Corp teaching post but the books reveals his disillusionment.
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    More Great Railway Journeys by Benedict Allen (John_Vaughan)
    John_Vaughan: Chapt 2 for more on Africa - Dark Star Safari: Overland from Cairo to Capetown. Paul Theoux
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    When a Crocodile Eats the Sun by Peter Godwin (bergs47)
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    Somewhere Over the Rainbow: Travels in South Africa by Gavin Bell (John_Vaughan)
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    The Blue Nile by Alan Moorehead (John_Vaughan)
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    Ghost Train to the Eastern Star: On the Tracks of the Great Railway Bazaar by Paul Theroux (John_Vaughan)
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» See also 72 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 54 (next | show all)
Paul Theroux gives his reason for wanting to take an overland journey through Africa in the beginning of the book, “Being available at any time in the total accessible world seemed to me pure horror. It made me want to find a place that was not accessible at all: no phones, no fax machines, not even mail delivery, the wonderful old world of being out of touch. In other words, gone away….The greatest justification for travel is not self-improvement but rather performing a vanishing act, disappearing without a trace. As Huck put it, lighting out for the territory.” He describes Africa as one of the last places on earth one can vanish into. Theroux had been a Peace Corps volunteer and teacher in Malawi and Uganda thirty years prior—he wanted to see how it had held up.

One of the reasons I like Theroux’s books so much is because I would never take the risks and journeys he does. But I like experiencing them through him. He reads during his trips—often books and long-dead authors connected with traveling through the region—if it be Mark Twain or Rousseau. And he usually has time to stop in and chat a bit with the regional celebrity author. I keep my Amazon wishlist close by to add to as I read. Theroux is no Rick Steves. He doesn’t travel in luxury nor or his writings to encourage you to follow in his steps. His trips are usually zen banality traveling on hot smelly buses or trains that always break down. These moments are punctuated with things like being shot at or illness. A frequent theme through the book is an African warning him away from the place he is about to go because, “bad people are there.”

He is not happy with what he finds on his journey. He was criticized after the book’s release for his contempt of Aid and Aid Workers and missionaries in Africa. Paul is a curmudgeon. But it is the chapters that he writes about his visits to the schools he taught in and you can feel his disappointment at the futility he sees. He visits the graves of the couple who founded the school and describes how their unkemptness would have disappointed the old orderly couple and so he weeds their grave himself. He also visits the school itself—aid promised was stolen, and the books had all been stolen and the school was falling down. He was disappointed to find that many of his fellow African teachers had sent their children elsewhere for education, but in some cases had encouraged their children to not come back but to stay in other countries.

If you are a real-life or an arm-chair adventurer and you love good travel writing and reading about literature then check out Theroux.
( )
  auldhouse | Sep 30, 2021 |
Brilliant travel. Got a culture shocked just from reading it. ( )
  kakadoo202 | Feb 24, 2021 |
Usual Paul Theroux fare: drama on the road (riding a cattle car from Ethiopia to Kenya, hassled by 'urchins' etc.!), chatting with locals, and denouncing "tourists" who like the game animals more than the people of Africa. This book is also a trip back in time to when he served in the Peace Corps. The nostalgia adds a new flavor. But things are not good in Africa --by any measure. Theroux suggests empowering Africans directly and then letting them be which may include allowing them to live at a bare subsistence level -- i.e., poor but happy. ( )
  mjspear | Nov 9, 2020 |
I just love Paul Theroux' books- have done three of his travelogues this year, including (in the wrong order) his second attempt on Africa in "Last Train to Zona Verde".
Naving spent time in Africa 35 years before- teaching, a member of the Peace Corps- the 60 year old author travels from Egypt to S Africa by bus, train and jeep. Avoiding sightseeing, and focussing on the real Africa, he talks with everyone he meets- the poor and struggling, and those running the country, white Aid workers, missionaries, fellow travellers, political prisoners.... Revisiting places from his youth, he assesses how far Africa has come in those decades of independence and self determination- there is a definite sense of things being Much Worse Now.
Perhaps the most lasting impression - and one which he discussed, too, in "Zona Verde" is the futile and self-seeking Relief industry. Likening it on more than one occasion, to Charles Dickens' Mrs Jellyby, with her fatuous notions on how to improve Their lives, he refers to splendid buildings erected by such agencies and abandoned by the locals, whose needs they don't meet. ; the uninvolved apathy of infantilized locals waiting for whites to come and make stuff happen...
I don't think anyone does travel writing so well; the complete cross section of voices creates a collage of experiences of life in Africa. ( )
  starbox | Jul 22, 2020 |
I've never read Theroux before, because I don't really identify with his cynical worldview. Or perhaps, I just get enough of that already. He is very critical of others, and not in an insightful way. For example, throughout the book he criticizes people for being overly certain of their beliefs… Yet his own solid beliefs are themselves usually based on extremely flimsy evidence, like a book he once read or hearsay from a friend at a university. He spends a lot of time writing about development aid. I often agree with him, at least in part, but cringe at his weak arguments. Still, I like that he tries, and that he also includes some brief history sketches.

The strength is that Theroux gets out there, off the beaten track. He describes it well. And, above all, he is not merely an observer, but he interacts with people along the way, and not just shallowly.

The main problem with this book is that it doesn't end. After Theroux gets to South Africa, he doesn't want to stop. And so the book doesn't stop. It just goes on and on, with no real purpose except to postpone the end. It gets very tedious, especially one very long scene in which he details every line of conversation with a misguided missionary straight out of "The Poisonwood Bible." She's an irritating person, and maybe deserves to be teased, but do we readers need to endure it, too?

> The whole point of my leaving was to escape this stuff, to be out of touch. The greatest justification for travel is not self-improvement but rather performing a vanishing act, disappearing without a trace.

> I had gotten to Lower Egypt, and was heading south, in my usual traveling mood: hoping for the picturesque, expecting misery, braced for the appalling. Happiness was unthinkable, for although happiness is desirable, it is a banal subject for travel. Therefore, Africa seemed perfect for a long journey.

> "We like Americans. It was your government that did it, not you." This distinction between politics and people was to be made quite often by people I met on my trip. Africans in general disliked their governments so intensely, and saw them as so unrepresentative of themselves, that they were happy to give me the benefit of the doubt.

> Abdullah the taxi driver complained most of the way back through Omdurman and over the bridge. But I was smiling, vitalized by the talk and bewitched by the Nile, which was coursing from the heart of Africa, and by the sight of the moon shining on it, filling its surface with shattered oblongs of light in brilliant puddles.

> The other Ethiopian cash crop, high-grade coffee, also grown here in the hills around Harar, was in demand but negligible in profit compared to khat. This daze-producing bush was so highly prized in the nonboozing Emirates and the other states in the Persian Gulf that Dire Dawa’s airport was very busy with the comings and goings of small transport planes. For the greatest buzz, khat had to be fresh when it was chewed.

> They drove away, leaving me by the side of the road. That was to be fairly typical of my experience with aid workers in rural Africa: they were, in general, oafish self-dramatizing prigs, and often complete bastards.

> I said, "Sitaki kufa." I don’t want to die. He said in English, "They do not want your life, bwana. They want your shoes." Many times after that, in my meandering through Africa, I mumbled these words, an epitaph of underdevelopment, desperation in a single sentence.

> Here as elsewhere, I was the only muzungu traveler. The others didn’t take buses, feared Sudan and Ethiopia, stuck to selected routes, and traveled in groups to look at animals. As a rule, they stayed a great distance from the locals. Yet, though I was solitary, all I heard was karibu, karibu, welcome, welcome, and "Take more ugali?"

> Where are the Africans in all this? In my view, aid is a failure if in forty years of charity the only people still dishing up the food and doling out the money are foreigners. No Africans are involved—there is not even a concept of African volunteerism or labor-intensive projects. … The most imaginative solution Africans had to their plight was simply to leave—to bail out, escape, run, bolt—go to Britain or America and abandon their homelands. That was the lesson of the Kilimanjaro Express—half the African passengers on it were fleeing, intending to emigrate.

> I began to fantasize that the Africa I traveled through was often like a parallel universe, the dark star image in my mind, in which everyone existed as a sort of shadow counterpart of someone in the brighter world.

> Later, walking through Mzuzu to my hotel, I stopped in a bar to drink a beer, knowing that inevitably an African would join me, ask me for a drink, and tell me a story.

> That was my Malawi epiphany. Only Africans were capable of making a difference in Africa. Everyone else, donors and volunteers and bankers, however idealistic, were simply agents of subversion

> One of the epiphanies of my trip was the realization that where the mode of life had changed significantly in the Africa I had known, it had changed for the worse.

> When the dominant males are killed and their heads mounted, the male cubs stay in the pride and mate with their mothers and sisters, and "jigger the gene pool."

> "The flood was here," a man said as we passed a low-lying district of shacks outside the city. He saw that I had been gaping out the window. "The people were rehoused. New people have come hoping for a new flood, so that the government will find them houses." But the government would not have paid for that housing; it would have been funded by what an American chronicler of recent history in the country called "the Donors' Republic of Mozambique."

> Joseph Conrad once wrote, "Before the Congo I was a mere animal." I could say the same about my own experience of Africa. It made me curious again, and thinking about Africa once more I yearned to go back. I love the African bush—I missed it; but I hate African cities. ( )
  breic | Aug 3, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 54 (next | show all)
Theroux is often dour, although he finds hopeful signs that Africa will endure and overcome its present misfortunes in the sight, for instance, of a young African boatman doing complex mathematical equations amid “spitting jets of steam,” and in the constant, calming beauty of so many African places. Engagingly written, sharply observed: another winner from Theroux.
added by John_Vaughan | editKirkus (Jul 21, 2011)
 

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Large-leaved and many-footed shadowing,

What god rules over Africa, what shape

What avuncular cloud-man beamier than spears?

   Wallace Stevens, ‘The Greenest Continent’
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For my mother, Anne Dittami Theroux,
on her ninety-first birthday
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All news out of Africa is bad.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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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 circumstances.Gauging the state of affairs, he talks to Africans, aid workers, missionaries, and tourists. What results is an insightful meditation on the history, politics, and beauty of Africa and its people, and "a vivid portrayal of the secret sweetness, the hidden vitality, and the long-patient hope that lies just beneath the surface" (Rocky Mountain News). In a new postscript, Theroux recounts the dramatic events of a return to Africa to visit Zimbabwe.

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Al het nieuws over Afrika, stelde Paul Theroux vast, is tegenwoordig slecht nieuws. Het enige dat we over de Afrikaanse landen horen, heeft te maken met hongersnood, massamoorden en natuurrampen Theroux had betere herinneringen aan het Afrikaanse continent. Hij dacht aan de vele gevaren, de liefelijkheid, de humor, de schoonheid van de natuur, en besloot per trein een reis te maken door het 'groenste deel van de wereld', waar hij veertig jaar geleden met veel plezier gewoond, gewerkt en rondgetrokken had. Hij was ervan overtuigd dat zijn nieuwe reis weer even plezierig zou worden. Maar Theroux vergiste zich. Hij werd beroofd, beschoten en beschimpt. De wegen waren een verschrikking, de treinen bevonden zich in een vreselijke slechte toestand en een infrastructuur bestond nauwelijks. Afrika leek in veertig jaar alleen maar bergafwaarts gegaan. De mensen waren hongeriger, armer, slechter opgeleid, pessimistischer en corrupter, en de politici onderscheidden zich niet langer van medicijnmannen. Theroux werd ziek en kon vaak niet verder reizen. Toch verveelde hij zich geen moment. Integendeel: zijn verblijf in Afrika werd een openbaring. De reis van Cairo naar Kaapstad bleek een nieuw reisboek dubbel en dwars waard te zijn.
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Penguin Australia

2 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0140281118, 0141037296

 

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