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Dark Star Safari: Overland from Cairo to Cape Town

3.95 of 5 stars 3.95  ·  rating details  ·  7,876 ratings  ·  609 reviews
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, missionar
Paperback, 485 pages
Published April 5th 2004 by Mariner Books (first published 2002)
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Leonard Lomayani I have been badly offended by this novel.All the bad things this Paul talks about African people,and blacks in general,including…moreI have been badly offended by this novel.All the bad things this Paul talks about African people,and blacks in general,including animals,sicknesses,thieves, insects and germs,and all sorts of ills and bad can be found in Africa.It doesn't make sense to me,to be in a place in one week,or for day,and generalise that all the people are like that and the surrounding in general.He have little knowledge that I was once corned in DC,capital hill by a white man,and I am from Africa.I was once corned by a another white guy from abroad of $1000.I was called "Afrik,afrik as I was passing on an alley in Sweden.The word "Mzungu"is not a racist word,its a respectable name,someone with a sense of humour,kind,generous and loving,an african black man with those qualities people call him mzungu,they call me mzungu and I am black.This is a Paul's way to destroy Africans.There are some truth in the book,but the same can be found anywhere or even worse somewhere else in the world,not necessarily in Africa only.We have not this ills.The are thousands and thousands of innocent people being killed each day,in Asia,Europe and in America.(less)
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Jul 25, 2014 Caroline rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Caroline by: Shelley
Grrrrr! Oh how this man irritates yet enthrals me!

I have just tramped down through Africa in the footsteps of Theroux, sighing and tsking, yet unable to put the book down. This man is a genius writer, yet so darn cantankerous, curmudgeonly and scathing that he made me want to throw the book on the floor and mash it. Even when he relishes a place, it often seems that it is the dirt, the stink and the squalor that inspires him. It's a kind of machismo. Proof that he isn't a tourist, but a bona fid
Jun 29, 2007 Emily rated it 2 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: arrogant tourists who think they're "not really white"
Shelves: booksofthepast
WHY do I keep reading books by this man? For some unknown reason I assume that I'll garner some great knowledge form his books or be more amused than frustrated. Thus far: not. Instead I'm annoyed by his arrogance and his assumption that he's different from other white people in Africa because he "knows" that the aide system is faulty or because he lived there in the 60's. Just because you have a backpack and a history with Africa doesn't make you an expert, and Theroux whining about the fact th ...more
This was my first Theroux and, on finishing it, I couldn’t fully judge of the tone of a book that was written near what will likely be the end of his career, after a certain cynicism has taken root. Since then, I’ve read The Great Railway Bazaar (his first travel book) and now a good chunk of Ghost Train.

First, it has to be said that this book is very NOT-P.C. (to say the least!). Theroux has what often appears to be an open and unapologetic contempt for many of the black Africans he meets and d
This book was a great read for a student of international development/relations. I understand the author's cynicism, admire his risktaking, and appreciate his insight into the impact of decades of foreign intervention in Africa. I didn't feel he was overly arrogant for a journey of this depth and magnitude; it certainly added to the story, for better or worse. It was an enjoyable read, full of analysis, rather than simply description.
Aug 24, 2007 W rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: africa reality readers
"Safari," in Swahili means "journey," and is Theroux’s reason for returning to Africa: to escape a life usurped by schedules, appointments, e-mails and cell phones. After 40 years, Paul Theroux returns to Africa where he began writing. At 60, no one has so conquered the genre like Theroux.

But this return to Africa is more rumination than entertainment, and it is depressing. His first years in Africa—as Peace Corps volunteer and University teacher—saw a continent full of hope and promise. Today,
Theroux is a pompous ass. A just-compelling-enough pompous ass.
Mayn! This flipping book was an endlessly patronizing, infinitely tedious rant from a burdened white man.

Perhaps the most annoying travel book I read. Gah!

Take 54 seats Paul Theroux. I'd recommend Dark Continent My Black Arse if you're looking for a Cape to Cairo travelogue. Infinitely better.


This article? This article right here is The Truth. While the review is about The Last Train to Zona Verde: My Ultimate African Safari, it might as well have been reviewing this book.


"As Th
A reasonably well written and interesting book about Africa.
There are very interesting bits about places rarely visited by Westerners (such as Sudan) that are surprising and vividly narrated by the author.
Quite heartbreaking is the terrible condition in which many countries in Africa still find themselves in, and the author's cynicism is very understandable, considering the history and the realities which Africa must face. His insight into the impact of decades of foreign intervention in Afric
Near the end of Paul Theroux's north-south journey across the African continent, from Cairo to Cape Town, he allows himself the luxury of a swanky South African train trip, a rare mode of transportation for this usually spartan traveler in this fascinating trek on board cattle trucks, minivans packed to the roof with Africans, rickety matutus, canoes and proper boats. During a train stop a child begs in a prayerful way. Theroux, from the train, can't bring himself to toss food to her. After the ...more
Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist"
Curmudgeonly cogitator creeps curiously from Cairo to Cape Town. Crazy old coot!

Travel writer + several months of free time = Egypt--->Sudan--->Ethiopia--->Kenya--->Uganda--->Tanzania--->Malawi--->
Mozambique--->Zimbabwe--->South Africa--->Mozambique--->South Africa

Rearrange the letters in "Paul Theroux" and you get "Heat Up, Luxor!"
I feel it's my duty to point these things out. Make of them what you will.
I got this mainly because:

1. Paul Theroux is Louis Theroux's father and I like Louis Theroux.

2. It was a Kindle bargain.

And No.3 (maybe ought to have mentioned this first) I have a bit of a fascination with that vast continent that can be glimpsed from my terrace.

Bearing in mind this is a good 10 years out of date I thought it was nevertheless a good way of seeing the real Africa as PT tends to go off the beaten track and retains a dry scorn for the touristy-type tours which in his opinion miss
I like to experience travel with a little grit and Paul Theroux certainly is of like mind. While traveling from Cairo to Cape Town, crossing the African continent from north to south, he suffers discomfort, uncertainty, hostility, and life threatening situations. There is no public transportation through many of the countries he traversed. He hitched rides in rickety overloaded trucks and buses traveling on roads strewn with potholes and boulders. He freely expresses his disdain for aid organiza ...more
Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance
Funny. I had a Paul Theroux on my shelf for years, untouched, and finally decided to take it with me to the Chicago Book Festival last summer where I released it. Theroux was speaking so I thought it would be cool to release one of his books just outside the tent where he was speaking. I left the book next to one of the tent stakes and went inside to hear him talk. He was a fabulous storyteller and I immediately regretted that I had given away his book. I went out to try to retrieve the book, bu ...more
May 13, 2008 Glenn rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: travelers, travelers in Africa, aid workers, those interested in Africa
A great book which is entertaining, informative, and thoughtful. My travel book reading has been limited to Rick Steeves and Bill Bryson - Paul Theroux is a refreshing step toward the serious end of the spectrum, while still relying on a healthy dose of humor.

Theroux present himself as an intrepid traveler who is willing to brave any hardship for a story. Once he gets through Ethiopia, though, more of his personal story is revealed and I found the trip through eastern Africa to be much more rema
Jan 17, 2013 Marc rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: 'real' adventure travellers
Renowned travel writer, Paul Theroux's, account of a solitary journey from Cairo to Cape Town in 2001. If you do not appreciate nostalgic, and often quite opinionated ramblings, then give the book a skip. You may enjoy a glossy safari lodge brochure better. I enjoyed his narrative because of its individualistic tone and Theroux's often contentious rantings against foreign aid workers and African governments' inability to put their people first.

His nostalgia is quite evident when he writes about
Strangely, I feel Paul Theroux becomes much more reflective in the second half of the book as the narrative winds down. From the outset, you're thrown into this whirlwind travel, and very little is revealed at the beginning other than the names of places, a few details and his hurry to get further South. The first half, his arguments become repetitive very fast and he doesn't seem to have much fun. But the second half is unique and special, and he visits places he knows much more intimately, spe ...more
Vilija Pauliukonis
What an arrogant, hypocritical dick! One picks up this book hoping for an armchair traveling voyage through East Africa. What one gets is a self-righteous White Man who describes himself as grizzled and wise at the ripe age of 70-something, pointing out numerous times that many Africans guess he's in his 40s because they are so unused to seeing old men. He paints himself as impervious to the dangers of Africa because he's Been There Before, and can speak to natives in their own language. He snee ...more
Paul Theroux does not admire foreign aid workers or the work they do. The first 200 pages of Dark Star Safari contain several accounts of rude, obnoxious, self-important aid workers, often depicted as roaring through blighted communities in expensive Land Rovers, refusing to give rides. Two aid workers tell him they are on their way to “supervise a wet-feeding,” an outreach effort that Theroux characterizes as “going to a village to dump [corn-soy blend] in a trough for people to eat.” He gets i ...more
There are quite a few chapters in this book that are really insightful and enjoyable. Unfortunately, there are just as many chapters where Theroux shifts the focus away from the people and places he encounters on his journey to rag on international aid and development agencies (without actually adding anything substantive to the larger debate on the relative benefits of foreign aid) and remind the reader how much better he is than all other Westerners who come to Africa. He also makes rather fre ...more
Paul Theroux is aggravating at times. He is holier than thou, than I and than all the rest of us, so there is no other expat worthy of being in the developing world except for someone like him. This is the flaw in some of his books.

But what is enjoyable about this book is how much he enjoys the adventure and the simple act of getting from one place to another in places where doing that is never easy or comfortable, and he chooses the uncomfortable routes and modes of travel.

I read this as I tra
One of my favorite Theroux travel books. He is returning to Africa 30 years later after having spent several years teaching in Malawi and Uganda when he was in the Peace Corp. He finds things have not changed for the better and much worse is many cases. He finds the cities are really dismal and has a lot of questions about whether all of the aid and aid workers that have poured into Africa have been any benefit. He meets Africans from all walks of life and meets some really wonderful people as w ...more
C.R. Miller
His writing about Egypt and Sudan, including the cultural and historical reflections, I found fascinating. I found the section on Ethiopia useful, if a bit superficial. Theroux really hits his stride, though, when he gets into Kenya and Malawi, where he is able to draw comparisons between the places and peoples he knew from living and teaching there back in the 1960s and those of current-day Africa. His mounting critique of foreign aid and associated NGOs as he travels south is indispensable. At ...more
Travel writer Paul Theroux travels between Cairo and Capetown without getting on a plane. By bus, train, car, boat and foot, he navigates the confounding continent of Africa, dodging bullets, making unexpected friends and revisiting old haunts.

I know that some people find Theroux's curmudgeonly tone off-putting and his cynicism distressing. I think it's somewhat refreshing. It's easy enough for a travel writer to write about elegant hotels and pretty landscapes and I appreciate it when one digs
Megha Guruprasad
This book begins just the way you would want it to. Starting in Egypt, Theroux gives to this country a human face( AND body, for those of us who can only associate it with the Safeenkees (sphinx)). The description of the Sudan is just as vivid and satisfying , and that of Ethiopia pure genius. He writes here as a keen observer from the outside,beautifully interlacing his physical experiences with the accompanying thoughts in his mind. Sometimes recollections of works of prose, poems that apply t ...more
I like to travel, but it takes somebody with a lot bigger appetite for adventure (and danger and discomfort) than I have to do what Paul Theroux did. He sets out from Cairo and travels overland to Cape Town. He shuns all the easy, safe, tourist-friendly ways of making the trip, and essentially goes native. Crowded buses, broken down vans, smelly freighters, mosquito-assaulted canoes - Theroux takes the road less traveled by Westerners, so that he can take the roads taken by Africans themselves. ...more
I read this a chapter or two chapter at a time over a period of 2 months. It is a book to savor. There are not many books I read again, but this one is on my list.

This is a difficult journey and Theroux, traveling alone, might not have emerged from it alive. His advantages were years of travel and previous acquaintance with the continent.

The most interesting vignettes were his visit with Mahfouz in Egypt, the boat trip across Lake Victoria, entering any country, visiting friends from his former
I do enjoy his travel books, although I have a few bones to pick with him in general. He does a great job of describing the people, places, and politics as he travels overland from Cairo to Capetown. Africa is a mess, and this narrative was informative. The place seems hopeless, and Theroux makes Western aid largely culpable for instilling a sense of entitlement amoung the natives. He generally feels a sort of subsistence life in rural villages has more dignity and joy than the chaos and crime o ...more
I loved this. Paul Theroux travels from Cairo to Cape Town, recording his conversations with a cast of characters he meets along the way. Also included are his reflections on a wide range of topics related to Africa. His straight-shooting style and counter-intuitive conclusions, particularly his view that aid in Africa has done more harm than good, inspires the ire of many readers, and I myself got mad at him once. Although he does have a tendency to overgeneralize (aid workers in Africa are rep ...more
Though it's the story of a journey, not an in-depth current affairs tome, I found this very informative about countries I knew very little about. Passing mentions of historical events have gotten me curious to track down more information elsewhere ...

Theroux was hard to put up with at times though. Not so much "endearingly irascible" as smug and self-righteous, at times. His use of the condescending & dismissive phrase agents of virtue in place of aid workers really got on my nerves for a w
Katie L.
I thought the book was well researched, easy to read and somewhat interesting. However, I was living in East Africa at the time when I read this, which may have coloured my view, but Paul Theroux comes across as a whiny little snot in a lot of this book. I remember at one point where he's moaning about how the sidewalks are cracked at Makerere University (where I was actually living when reading this book) and I somewhat wanted to give him a slap, or at least make him suffer from food poisoning ...more
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Paul Edward Theroux is an American travel writer and novelist, whose best known work is The Great Railway Bazaar (1975), a travelogue about a trip he made by train from Great Britain through Western and Eastern Europe, the Middle East, through South Asia, then South-East Asia, up through East Asia, as far east as Japan, and then back across Russia to his point of origin. Although perhaps best know ...more
More about Paul Theroux...
The Great Railway Bazaar The Mosquito Coast Riding the Iron Rooster The Old Patagonian Express: By Train Through the Americas Ghost Train to the Eastern Star

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“You go away for a long time and return a different person - you never come all the way back.” 48 likes
“The measure of civilized behavior is compassion.” 16 likes
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