Dark safari

I've enjoyed Paul Theroux's travel writing, most memorably The Great Railway Bazaar. Dark Star Safari: Overland from Cairo to Cape Townis similar in that it's a long distance journey, this time from north to south of the African continent. As always with Paul Theroux there are moments of great beauty in his writing - there are some beautiful descriptions: the young engineer doing algebraic equations in a boiler room of a ship crossing one of Africa's many lakes, the kindness of strangers, sleeping in the north African desert.

However much of the book has a tone of peevishness that becomes increasingly irritating as the book progresses. Much of this peevishness is aimed at the aid agencies for which Theroux has little time. Although some of his comments are undoubtedly true - there has been corruption surrounding the distribution of aid in some cases, and some aid workers have behaved less than honourably. But to treat all aid workers as though they are all equally responsible is incredibly unfair. He never visits an aid project himself, and seems to be happy to condemn without actually researching. Particular venom is reserved for the transport of the aid workers, which just seems to be plain peculiar.

The book could also have done with a good edit. There are lots of silly mistakes: comments which are contradicted on a following page and repetitions of statements. It's such a shame, because some of the writing is really good. There were some moments when I felt as though I was in Africa with him, and you can't help but applaud his courage in going to areas which are by and large avoided, but the grumpy old man tone is not helpful, and I did find some of the name dropping irritating too. I much preferred the tone of his earlier books. This is a good book to read if you're interested in some of the more inaccesible areas of the dark continent, but I think should be taken with a large pinch of salt.


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