Dark Star Safari by Paul Theroux
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Dark Star Safari is indeed dark. The deep disappointment felt by the master of travel writing, Paul Theroux, pervades this heartbreakingly honest look at decaying societies.
The landscape itself though scarred with dilapidated human settlements remains beautiful in its vast immenseness, but a sense of hopelessness pervades the text. Paul travels overland from appalling dirty and dangerous Cairo to Cape Town where white farmers are being hacked to bits by liberated South Africans who feel the land belongs to them.
From taxi’s that breakdown in bleak backwaters, to buses that are nothing more than rolling death traps, to trains that are rocking shells of their former selves the modes of transport he takes range from laughable to downright dangerous. The muddy villages along the way are filled with derelict populations who are often “bad people”.
I think Paul in his quest to unplug and go someplace his fans could not find him forgot the old adage that you can never go back. In his idealistic youth he served in the Peace Corp and taught at a school in Malawi. He feels sadness about the fact that not only have things not gotten better for the African people in the last forty years, they have gotten much worse! Corrupt leaders have milked millions from the generosity of countries trying to help the African people. They do not want real development to take place because children with distended bellies and flies in their eyes engender more sympathy and foster larger handouts than healthy communities.
I selected this book because I want to go to Africa to see the gigantic fireball sunsets, the herds of grazing beasts and the last of what can be considered wild, and because Paul Theroux ranks high on my top ten writers list. After reading it I feel silly and insincere because I am not going to see the suffering masses. I will be wearing the tourist kaki with birding glasses slung over my shoulder and be the safari slut Paul finds so insensitive to the plight of the African people. I will sidestep the atrocious slums of Nairobi on my way to the game parks and try like hell not to get killed or robbed in Joburg. Still, I do care and hope that Africa, the birthplace of mankind, will find a way out of the dark abyss of hopelessness and the people will stand tall in the sun once more.
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