Dark Star Safari: Overland from Cairo to Capetown

Dark Star Safari: Overland from Cairo to Capetown

4.4 9
by Paul Theroux

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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,…  See more details below


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.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
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.

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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Product Details

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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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 in my domestic life things had begun to get a little predictable, too — Mr. Paul at home every evening when Mrs. Paul came home from work. “I made spaghetti sauce . . . I seared some tuna . . . I’m scrubbing some potatoes . . .”The writer in his apron, perspiring over his béchamel sauce, always within earshot of the telephone. You have to pick it up because it is ringing in your ear.
I wanted to drop out. People said, “Get a cell phone, use FedEx, sign up for Hotmail, stop in at Internet cafés, visit my Web site . . .” I said no thanks. The whole point of my leaving was to escape this stuff, to be out of touch. The greatest justification for travel is not self- improvement but rather performing a vanishing act, disappearing without a trace. As Huck put it, lighting out for the territory.
Africa is one of the last great places on earth a person can vanish into. I wanted that. Let them wait. I have been kept waiting far too many times for far too long.
I am outta here, I told myself. The next Web site I visit will be that of the poisonous Central African bird-eating spider.
A morbid aspect of my departure for Africa was that people began offering condolences. Say you’re leaving for a dangerous place. Your friends call sympathetically, as though you’ve caught a serious illness that might prove fatal. Yet I found these messages unexpectedly stimulating, a heartening preview of what my own demise would be like. Lots of tears! Lots of mourners! But also, undoubtedly, many people boasting solemnly, “I told him not to do it. I was one of the last people to talk to him.” I had gotten to Lower Egypt, and was heading south, in my usual traveling mood: hoping for the picturesque, expecting misery, braced for the appalling. Happiness was unthinkable, for although happiness is desirable, it is a banal subject for travel. Therefore, Africa seemed perfect for a long journey.

Copyright © 2003 by Paul Theroux. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company.

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Dark Star Safari: Overland from Cairo to Cape Town 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have read all of Paul Theroux's travel books and found Dark Star Safari his best. But then I always think that when I finish the latest one. But Dark Star is better because it is more personal. An act of rediscovery, going home rather than discovery. And because he visits so many places that are not visited by tourists he does not get to engage in his usual tourist bashing. Although there is much of it, especially in the end when he talks to a young woman on a train about her literal belief in the bible. You almost feel your listening to them as the occupy the seats in front of you on the train. But the major part of the book is a rift on aid workers and the impact (or lack off) on East Africa (let's make note he only visited a portion of the continent) and how people and institutions have changed since he was a teacher in the Peace Corps in the 60s. Always fun, always thought provoking, and always told with the wonderful wry wit that drips with sarcasm this is a wonderful trip to take with Mr. Theroux, and I was sad when it ended. I highly recommend this enjoyable volume.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book provides an excellent, eye opening look at Africa through the lens of the author's long journey from one end of the continent to the other. The conclusions he reaches are somewhat disturbing and depressing, as it seems that much of the continent is in chaos or decay or both. On the other hand, it's an interesting travelogue of an incredible, hands on journey from the north to the south. The author has good journalistic skills, as he shares a number of entertaining and amusing anecdotes about what he sees and who he meets along the way. This book will give readers a fresh and unflinching look at Africa, and will perhaps generate more discussion on this complex subject.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I got led to this by The Economists recent report on 'Emerging Africa.'. This is a great place to start understanding how far the continent has come in the last eight years. Ignore Theroux's occasional grumbling and enjoy the journey.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
www.LindaBallouAuthor.com More than 1 year ago
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. www.lindaballouauthor.com
Guest More than 1 year ago
I am a big fan of Theroux and have been greatly influenced by him. I was disappointed in this effort and believe he may simply have passed the age that he is capable of pulling off these grand 6 month journeys through big chunks of the planet. That he EVER was is a great tribute to his indefatigability. He has earned the right to live out his days paddling around Cape Cod or Hawaii or wherever he likes, and enjoying the fruits of his prodigious labors.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Having experienced 4 years living in Cairo, I found this a fascinating and informative read. In our expat community of Maadi, Cairo we saw and helped hundreds - no, thousands! -of refugees on their journey towards the light. Theroux's descriptions are so exceptional I nearly could feel, touch, taste and smell Africa. I'm looking forward to more hours experiencing traveling through his other books.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Everything you would expect from a solid Theroux piece. A must read for fans, and for anyone interested in gleaning a different perspective on the current state and future plight of the continent. Perhaps the best travelogue since Happy Isles of Oceania.