Emily's Reviews > Dark Star Safari: Overland from Cairo to Cape Town

Dark Star Safari by Paul Theroux
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Jun 29, 07

bookshelves: booksofthepast
Recommended for: arrogant tourists who think they're "not really white"

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 that Africa hasn't lived up to its promise since he was there last only makes him look like all the people he criticizes. He wants Africa to make leaps and bounds in its economic and political policy, but then how would he be able to write so endearingly of the street urchins and the poverty? After all, seeing those things and writing about them makes him strong and experienced, right?

I agree that the current Western participation in African affairs is getting Africa nowhere, but I don't assume that makes me a genius or that I have my finger on the pulse of African issues. If you want to write a book about Africa, write about AFRICA and about how cool you are because you can travel there and not have any concern for your safety. If you want to write a travel book, write a travel book and don't be so bloody sanctimonious! Don't travel in crappy cars or eat bad food just so you can prove that you've "lived like an African." How condescending, to assume that Africans don't know anything better.

Can anyone tell that this guy annoys me? And yet, I'll probably read another of his books because I want to actually feel like he's not as much of a schmuck as I think he is. I can admit that the book has some insightful or well written passages, but in general I think it's another white person thinking he's got Africa down. Shut it. I'll bet he took a big bottle of hand sanitizer everywhere he went, he just didn't write about that.
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Comments (showing 1-12 of 12) (12 new)

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Andy No where does he imply he was expecting Africa to grow leaps and bounds, he was just admonishing that it has gotten worse.


message 2: by Jon (new)

Jon I don't actually understand what your criticism of him is.
Example: "After all, seeing those things and writing about them makes him strong and experienced, right?" -- Umm, kinda, yeah.

Maybe I missed your point entirely, but as somebody who is interested in reading this book, your criticism makes little sense.


Michael Arrogant? I don't think so. Whining? No, don't get that either. Sanctimonious? Nope. Different fom other white people in Africa? Yes, almost certainly. I am half way through this book and I am loving it because the author comes across as so straight forward, humane, observant and interested in the world about him. I have also seen Theroux at public events and readings and I didn't think there was an ounce of arrogant, whining sanctimoniousness about the man. That is what makes him a great travel writer, I guess. How can you get it so wrong?


message 4: by Robespierre (new) - added it

Robespierre Cat I think this isn't a review so much as it is a mis read of a very good author and book. I'm not sure what you think you just contributed, but it surely wasn't helpful .


GeckoEcho He is annoying. Meh... Just another burdened white man who really knows Africans. Gtfoohwybws!


Matthew Gibb I think Paul has done something the glitzy travel magazines have chose to ignore.He has seen places for what they actually are. A tourist stays for a week or two.Lives in a hotel, eats western food and travels in air conditioned comfort. How do you learn anything about a new culture that way? I have lived in China for 4 years. I was definitely little more than a tourist my first year. Now this is my second home. I would imagine Paul's eight years or so in Malawi and the Congo more than qualifies him to be a traveler and not a tourist. If you want glitz pick up a magazine and go to some island resort.If you want to see what the natives are really like either read Paul or buy a plane ticket and travel on a meager budget with only a minimum of things.Do it alone and take your time. His advice is great.


message 7: by Meg (new) - rated it 1 star

Meg Photini I agree. He does everything "right," but it comes off as "I hate Africa and Africans."


message 8: by Tom (new) - rated it 4 stars

Tom Your confession of Theroux's work confuses me. He's writing from his own perspective and experience. Had you embarked on this same, brave odyssey and written about it, it would likely be a completely different book. Theroux himself admits so in "Fresh Air Fiend." This is one man's perspective and one man's story. You're welcome to write your own if it doesn't meet your expectations.


Matthew Gibb Tom wrote: "Your confession of Theroux's work confuses me. He's writing from his own perspective and experience. Had you embarked on this same, brave odyssey and written about it, it would likely be a complete..."

I am an avid fan of Paul. I live a life that must be in some ways similar. I was inspired to be a teacher by living with students while in America. His writing is highly descriptive and sometimes scathing. I have followed his advice and found I can live in a foreign country for a month or more on less than I maintained my own life back in sunny, expensive San Diego. I wouldn't call some of his journeys brave. Perhaps brave would be someone who goes into the amazon or somewhere like Afghanistan. Perhaps his journeys through Africa could be called brave, but he didn't exactly go where he had to beat back the jungle or dodge bullets. I haven't been to Africa, but really want to go. Until then, perhaps Asia, South America and Australia have been my destinations and each has left an impression on me different than anything I read. As Paul and you both said so well, that is my story to write if I so choose. Even Paul says that all writing is subject to the writers distortions. Isn't this how we were all educated through the books written by others for the most part. Few people have been as lucky to travel to so many places as Paul Theroux.


message 10: by Tom (new) - rated it 5 stars

Tom Oman You seem to have failed to understand Theroux's message. Why do you project feelings of his superiority and aggrandizement on him? It seems they are coming from your own disjointed view of yourself. Theroux is just an observant traveler who thinks deeply and expresses himself beautifully. How that can drive you to such irritability is beyond me.


message 11: by Tom (new) - rated it 4 stars

Tom Tom: Thanks. My sentiments exactly. She might have a problem with men who write authoritatively.


Matthew Gibb Go back and re read some of his work and you will discover deep truths about this nut house we call earth. Furthermore, what do you see as Theroux's message? My interpretation is that he thinks every writer has to find their own voice and two people could travel to the same place and perceive things quite differently.

As an example, Paul calls cities Snake Pits devoid of culture. The fact is, cities are rife with options.

Once I went to circumambulate Qinghai lake in China. It is 3 hours from Xining city by uncomfortable shuttle bus. When I arrived there was no running water. I took a scoop shower. This is the biggest lake in China. Food was costly. About double that of what I could find in Xining City. Thirdly, the transportation options around the lake are infrequent, so I hitched a ride or two, and after being soaked by the rain, that stuff that created this sea in grasslands of China, settled for another shuttle bus to the halfway point at Niao Dao. I wandered in the rain admiring the tiny town of nomads and the forlorn Tibetan stupas behind my 25 dollar hotel room.

Going back to Xining city my room cost 10 dollars a night, noodles a mere dollar or two a bowl and transport frequent and abundant cost about 30 cents a ride.

In all fairness I can read, speak and write some Chinese. Paul didn't go to Xining. This area is very Muslim and Tibetan and hence it is full of varying culture that the first time visitor to China would likely be unaware of.

Please share one of your personal stories about travel or describe in detail what point it is that I missed. I am an avid fan of this author and have replicated his train journeys in places like Turkey, Sri Lanka, Singapore,Malaysia, Thailand and especially China, since I live there.

Paul does a great job with travel writing. I can say that most of his fiction really has been a let down, but just like the above reviewer said I faithfully come back to reading his work, even when my own opinions differ significantly.


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