May 24, 2003 - Daily Yomiuri Online: Theroux tells 'African story'

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Malawi: Peace Corps Malawi : The Peace Corps in Malawi: May 24, 2003 - Daily Yomiuri Online: Theroux tells 'African story'

By Admin1 (admin) on Monday, June 09, 2003 - 12:52 pm: Edit Post

Theroux tells 'African story'

Theroux tells 'African story'

Theroux tells 'African story'

Simon Farrell Daily Yomiuri Staf Writer

Dark Star Safari:


from Cairo

to Cape Town

By Paul Theroux

Houghton Mifflin

472 pp, 28 dollars

Dodging bullets, scolding missionaries and dismissing safari tourism, the man who is arguably the world's greatest travel writer conquers the dusty, rutted Africa overland trail in style.

He whines his way from teeming Cairo through empty deserts and coastal paradises, braving urban jungles toward the charming Victorian ambience and delightful penguins of the "Fairest Cape of Them All," at Simon's Town, South Africa.

Theroux's intro sums it up: "All news out of Africa is bad." So he went there. He rips into petty, corrupt officials, boldly lectures a U.S. ambassador and sneers with utter contempt at blue-eyed aid workers in shiny white Land Rovers who steadfastly avoid his glare.

Robbed in Jo'burg (who isn't?), conned in Kenya, food-poisoned in Ethiopia, he takes on fear, hatred and boredom, while embracing beauty and friends new and old on an AIDS- and violence-wracked continent, where he discovers life is cheaper and filthier than ever.

When not down and dirty with the best of them in overloaded, speeding buses and trucks on bald tires, or trains and boats that have seen minimum maintenance since independence crazily navigated by stoned locals, Theroux looks up an old friend from his 1960s Peace Corps stint, now the affable prime minister of Uganda.

His nostalgia trip steers him to the once-grand college he taught at in Malawi nearly 40 years ago. Theroux is heartbroken at the crumbling dump of lethargic students, unkempt gardens and looted library, the all-too-common legacy of postindependence do-gooding gone bad.

He corners an ex-con East African human rights activist (indeed, most of the African men he meets were once jailed) and later dines grandly in colonial splendor behind iron-barred security windows with his old friend, award-winning South African antiapartheid author Nadine Gordimer.

As a veteran of the same trip in the opposite direction in 1997 before throwing up my arms in dismay, undernourished, robbed and thoroughly pissed off at the halfway spot in Nairobi (called Nairobbery by locals), and having just finished Theroux's hilarious Hotel Honolulu, I relate to every word of his latest masterpiece.

Dark Star Safari is neither sensational nor patronizing, skipping political correctness and cultural sensitivity to spare nobody.

Skewering bureaucrats, farmers, land-grabbers, the holier-than-thou, politicians, envoys, et al, Theroux grumbles his way south. View unspoiled by rose-tinted glasses, he hurtles toward his obsessively anticipated 60th birthday on an unscheduled itinerary of social intercourse with Africa's teenage whores, bent officials and ubiquitous beggars.

However, he saves much of his wrath for fellow middle-class travelers, such as the "irritating Philistine like Piltdown Man in a golf cap;" and others who dare ask "predictable" questions about how they built the Pyramids.

As every serious traveler knows, having a good whinge eases stress on a long journey, and Theroux wastes no chance to pick arguments, express strong opinions and criticize the absurd along his 13,000-kilometer odyssey.

But his witty observations and obvious love and curiosity for Africa should help make this entertaining epic a yardstick for future travel writing--and one more reason for armchair adventurers to stay put.

His final chapter observes, not unkindly, "even after all these years, the best Africans are the bare-assed kind." To sum up in the words of one quoted observer: "Wonderful people. Terrible government. The African story."

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Story Source: Daily Yomiuri Online

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Malawi; Writing - Malawi



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