Dark Star Safari: Overland from Cairo to Capetown

by Paul Theroux

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.

  • Format: Paperback
  • ISBN-13/ EAN: 9780618446872
  • ISBN-10: 0618446877
  • Pages: 496
  • Publication Date: 04/05/2004
  • Carton Quantity: 24

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About the Book
About the Author
Excerpts
Reviews
  • About the Book
    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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  • About the Author
  • Excerpts
    1 Lighting Out All news out of Africa is bad. It made me want to go there, though not for the horror, the hot spots, the massacre-and-earthquake stories you read in the newspaper; I wanted the pleasure of being in Africa again. Feeling that the place was so large it contained many untold tales and some hope and comedy and sweetness, too — feeling that there was more to Africa than misery and terror — I aimed to reinsert myself in the bundu, as we used to call the bush, and to wander the antique hinterland. There I had lived and worked, happily, almost forty years ago, in the heart of the greenest continent.
    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 when I first knew 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 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.
    As I was saying, in those old undramatic days of my school- teaching in the bundu, folks lived their lives on bush paths at the ends of unpaved roads of red clay, in villages of grass-roofed huts. They had a new national flag to replace the Union Jack, they had just gotten the vote, some had bikes, many talked about buying their first pair of shoes. They were hopeful and so was I, a teacher living near a settlement of mud huts among dusty trees and parched fields. The children shrieked at play; the women, bent double — most with infants slung on their backs — hoed patches of corn and beans; and the men sat in the shade stupefying themselves on chibuku, the local beer, or kachasu, the local gin. That was taken for the natural order in Africa: frolicking children, laboring women, idle men.
    Now and then there was trouble: someone transfixed by a spear, drunken brawls, political violence, goon squads wearing the ruling-party T- shirt and raising hell. But in general the Africa I knew was sunlit and lovely, a soft green emptiness of low, flat-topped trees and dense bush, bird squawks, giggling kids, red roads, cracked and crusty brown cliffs that looked newly baked, blue remembered hills, striped and spotted animals and ones with yellow fur and fangs, and every hue of human being, from pink- faced planters in knee socks and shorts to brown Indians to Africans with black gleaming faces, and some people so dark they were purple. The predominant sound of the African bush was not the trumpeting of elephants nor the roar of lions but the coo-cooing of the turtledove.
    After I left Africa, there was an eruption of news about things going wrong, acts of God, acts of tyrants, tribal warfare and plagues, floods and starvation, bad-tempered political commissars, and little teenage soldiers who were hacking people. “Long sleeves?” they teased, cutting off hands; “short sleeves” meant lopping the whole arm. One million people died, mostly Tutsis, in the Rwanda massacres of 1994. The red African roads remained, but they were now crowded with ragged, bundle-burdened, fleeing refugees.
    Journalists pursued them. Goaded by their editors to feed a public hungering for proof of savagery on earth, reporters stood near starving Africans in their last shaking fuddle and intoned on the TV news for people gobbling snacks on their sofas and watching in horror. “And these people” — tight close-up of a death rattle — “these are the lucky ones.” You always think, Who says so? Had something fundamental changed since I was there? I wanted to find out. My plan was to go from Cairo to Cape Town, top to bottom, and to see everything in between.
    Now African news was as awful as the rumors. The place was said to be dessperate, unspeakable, violent, plague-ridden, starving, hopeless, dying on its feet. And these are the lucky ones. I thought, since I hhhhhad plenty of time and nothing pressing, that I might connect the dots, crossing borders and seeing the hinterland rather than flitting from capital to capital, being greeted by unctuous tour guides. I had no desire to see game parks, though I supposed at some point I would. The word “safari,” in Swahili, means “journey”; it has nothing to do with animals. Someone “on safari” is just away and unobtainable and out of touch.
    Out of touch in Africa was where I wanted to be. The wish to disappear sends many travelers away. If you are thoroughly sick of being kept waiting at home or at work, travel is perfect: let other people wait for a change. Travel is a sort of revenge for having been put on hold, having to leave messages on answering machines, not knowing your party’s extension, being kept waiting all your working life — the homebound writer’s irritants.Being kept waiting is the human condition.
    I thought, Let other people explain where I am. I imagined the dialogue: “When will Paul be back?” “We don’t know.” “Where is he?” “We’re not sure.” “Can we get in touch with him?” “No.” Travel in the African bush can also be a sort of revenge on cellular phones and fax machines, on telephones and the daily paper, on the creepier aspects of globalization that allow anyone who chooses to get his insinuating hands on you. I desired to be unobtainable. Kurtz, sick as he is, attempts to escape from Marlow’s riverboat, crawling on all fours like an animal, trying to flee into the jungle. I understood that.
    I was going to Africa for the best reason — in a spirit of discovery; and for the pettiest — simply to disappear, to light out, with a suggestion of I dare you to try and find me.
    Home had become a routine, and routines make time pass quickly. I was a sitting duck in my predictable routine: people knew when to call me; they knew when I would be at my desk. I was in such regular touch it was like having a job, a mode of life I hated. I was sick of being called up and importuned, asked for favors, hit up for money. You stick around too long and people begin to impose their own deadlines on you. “I need this by the twenty-fifth” or “Please read this by Friday” or “Try to finish this over the weekend” or “Let’s have a conference call on Wednesday.” Call me, fax me, e-mail me. You can get me anytime on my cell phone, here’s the number.
    Being available at any time in the totally 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.
    All I had to do was remove myself. I loved not having to ask permission, and in fact...

  • Reviews
    Engagingly written, sharply observed; another winner from Theroux.
    Kirkus Reviews, Starred

    His encounters with the natives, aid workers and occasional tourists make for rollicking entertainment, even as they offer a sobering look at the social and political chaos in which much of Africa finds itself.
    Publishers Weekly

    No mere tale of travel mishaps....Safari is Swahili for journey, and Theroux's is truly fantastic. Library Journal Starred

    Few recent books provide such a litany of Africa's ills, even as they make one fall in love with the continent.
    The Washington Post

    Theroux, one suspects, could be a headache to travel with; resourceful, courageous and indefatigable, as well as crusty, opinionated and contradictory. But listening to him recount his adventures... is another matter. He can make you forget to eat, this man.
    The San Francisco Chronicle

    Reading Theroux may make you cancel your plane tickets and settle in at home instead for a great read. The sometime novelist is at his most masterful with DARK STAR SAFARI. (A) Entertainment Weekly

    Armchair travelers will wish the book went on twice as long -- and that is something, considering that the book runs more than 400 pages. This is a masterwork by a master writer.
    Minneapolis Star-Tribune

    Paul Theroux. Travel. Africa. You need a better reason to read?
    The San Diego Union-Tribune

    The next best thing to going to Africa is to read (compulsively) this account by Paul Theroux of his overland expedition from Cairo to Capetown.
    Boston Herald

    [Theroux] is at his writerly best when conveying the beauty and wonder of Africa.
    The Miami Herald

    A gritty lesson in history, politics, aid relief and tourism; a middle-aged man's meditation on life and travel; and, above all, a masterpiece of observations that makes sense of senseless chaos and staggering wonder. Readers will be glad Therous made the trip.
    Town and Country

    DARK STAR SAFARI reveals the mystery of Africa, a continent of incredible disparity and resilience.
    Playboy

    This new travelogue ... is perhaps his most captivating work of perigrination since The Great Railway Bazaar.
    The Chicago Sun-Times

    Theroux is the thinking man's travel writer; in a seemingly casual, wandering fashion, he delivers a complete portrait of a continent's people, politics and economy. Bookpage

    Part of "Dark Star Safari" is pure entertainment; travelogue in a grand, epic style. But Theroux also offers a sobering, contemporary look at the social and political morass in which much of Africa is mired.
    Sacramento Bee

    If you have even the slightest interest in Africa, travel, good writing, the modern world, the future, cities, nature, human society, love, courage--well, life in general--you are going to have to be called to the dinner table six times before you put this book down. The Chicago Tribune

    I know and have traveled in Africa, so I can proclaim with admiration that Theroux, the disheveled, often grumpy, sometimes euphoric sojourner who shares his latest adventures in Dark Star Safari, is an intrepid traveler worthy of the reputation that precedes him. The Houston Chronicle

    opinionated but informed, and highly readable.
    Star Ledger

    A marvel of observation.... Theroux is near faultless in his expression of material about Africa, a continent where he taught 40 years ago, and which he clearly loves.
    Buffalo News

    You won't find this trip advertised in travel brochures, but it's well worth taking vicariously.
    Atlanta Journal Constitution

    Neither a sensationalistic reveler in the pain of others, nor a hopeless romantic, Theroux chronicles a journey through an Africa full of decay and beauty, fear and joy, misery and perseverance. Denver Rocky Mountain News

    Dark Star Safari is by turns hilarious and harrowing. It is an exploration of change, both in Africa -- its ruined cities, its confouding beauty -- and in Theroux's own life.
    Austin Chronicle

    Have no fear, Paul Theroux is as grumpy as ever. In this maddening, exhilarating, frustrating and thoroughly entertaining journey through Africa, Theroux is at his bracing best...
    The Chicago Tribune

    This is the most passionate and exciting of Theroux's half-dozen major travel books.
    The Associated Press

    an exciting adventure tale, filled with fabulously wonderful characters.
    Santa Cruz Sentinal

    [Theroux's] witty observations and obvious love and curiosity for Africa should help make this entertaining epic a yardstick for future travel writing.
    The Daily Yomiuri

    [Theroux's] storytelling and eye for detail are unmatched.
    The Los Angeles Times

    Still the dean of this genre, the irascible Theroux is the ideal companion for armchair travel.
    The Los Angeles Times
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