Quick Book Review: Dark Star Safari by Paul Theroux

A good friend recently recommended this book to me. I set Hayek’s Road To Serfdom down for a bit and jumped into Paul Theroux’s Dark Star Safari: Overland From Cairo To Cape Town. Published March 2003, 496 pp.

Theroux is a prolific travel writer, and this book chronicles his journey the length of Africa, from Cairo to Cape Town. This was most definitely not luxury travel. Theroux had no schedule, no reservations, and no cell phone. All he brought were the clothes he was wearing, cash. a duffle bag of a few things: books to read, blank journals, a couple of watches. He travelled by dugout canoe, walking hitchhiking, rickety bus or train, etc. Never by plane.

The trip was harrowing, at times very uncomfortable to read. Theroux’s descriptions of the situation in various East African countries are nothing short of horrific in many cases. True poverty, corruption, graft, rampant crime. General hopelessness for the vast majority of people.

The entire journey can be summed-up from this snippet in the introduction:

“To skip ahead, I am writing this a year later, just back from Africa,
having taken my long safari and been reminded that all travel is a
lesson in self-preservation. I was mistaken in so much- delayed, shot
at, howled at, and robbed. No massacres or earthquakes , but terrific
heat and the roads were terrible, the trains were derelict, forget
the telephones. Exasperated white farmers said,”It all went tits-up!”
Africa is materially more decrepit than it was the first time I new
it-hungrier, poorer, less educated, more pessimistic, more corrupt,
and you can’t tell the politicians from the witch doctors. Africans,
less esteemed than ever, seemed to me the most lied- to people on
earth – manipulated by their governments, burned by foreign experts,
befooled by charities, and cheated at every turn. To be an African
leader was to be a thief, but evangelists stole people’s innocence,
and self-serving aid agencies gave them false hope, which seemed worse.
In reply, Africans dragged to their feet or tried to emigrate, they
begged, they pleaded, they demanded money and gifts with a rude, weird
sense of entitlement. Not that Africa is one place. It is an assortment
of motley republics and seedy chiefdoms. I got sick, I got stranded, but
I was never bored. In fact my trip was a delight and a revelation. Such
a paragraph needs some explanation – at least a book. This book perhaps.”

The book is eye-opening, chilling, hopeful, and scary. But very much worth the time to read.

Additional links:
Press Release for Dark Star Safari published by Houghton Mifflin
Review: Dark Star Safari by Paul Theroux – The Guardian
Dark star safari: overland from … – Google Books
PaulTheroux.com – NonFiction – Dark Star Safari