Paul Theroux needs no introduction to the world in general. Africa on the other hand has been in dire need of exactly that, and Theroux is better placed than most to facilitate an honest and unflinching entree. To begin with he spent several years as a teacher in both Malawi and Uganda immediately before independence in that latter country and thereafter in Uganda, learning to speak both Chichewa and basic Swahili. The 1960s were an interesting and important time for an Africa being freed of colonial shackles and any reader of this book cannot fail to feel Theroux, in his reminiscing, sharing in the idealist passion for the potentials and possibilities of the young countries to which he became bonded.
In a timely return to Africa forty years later, however, his feelings of desperation and disappointment are just as palpable. From highs of crossing Lake Victoria, paddling down the Shire River and an emotional farewell to his two local travelling companions in Ethiopia (‘[We are] black, you are red. But we are bruzzers.’), to the lows in his return to the now decrepit university and school where he taught in Uganda and Malawi respectively, there is a consistent theme that focuses on the gradual decline of an initially promising continent where the answers are far from clear, but where there is still hope in a simple humanity.
His sometimes torturously slow passage from Cairo through Egypt, the Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and eventually to South Africa’s Cape Town yields a series of epiphanies. In Kampala he borrows from Chinua Achebe, -". . . things fell apart." In Malawi his view of foreign aid crystallises into "Only Africans [are] capable of making a difference in Africa".
The book is essentially well researched but does include inaccuracies and omissions (Cape Point is not the southernmost tip of Africa for example and the Dik-Dik is not a deer). Despite this and an occasionally dismissive tone Dark Star Safari remains important reading for Africans and non-Africans alike. It is certainly not a characterisation of the tourist hot spots on the continent: Theroux shuns these in favour of the real Africa - not endless plains teeming with animals but rather infuriating border posts, hazardous public transport and the sometimes hopeful opinions of the real people with whom he travels.
Book ID 711