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The Last Train to Zona Verde: My Ultimate African Safari
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Country and Territories > The Last Train to Zona Verde My Ultimate African Safari (May 2018)

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message 1: by Mariah Roze (new) - added it

Mariah Roze (mariahroze) | 1430 comments Mod
May- Countries and Territories: Angola

The Last Train to Zona Verde My Ultimate African Safari by Paul Theroux

message 2: by aPriL does feral sometimes (last edited May 05, 2018 01:05PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

aPriL does feral sometimes  (cheshirescratch) Starting this book today.

I am one of those people whose tongue will not do anything, like roll any R sounds as in many Spanish words, so when I read about African languages in this book like the !Kung language, I absolutely was floored!



Blair (blair_denholm) One of the main take-aways from this book for me was the fact that a man in his sunset years can just head off alone, fearless, and take on the world.

aPriL does feral sometimes  (cheshirescratch) The author's bravery amazed me too.

John Behle Thanks for the invite to your group. I even love the online ease--I keep trying in person book clubs and the sheer admin and waiting can take away the fun.

In Washington DC I met Paul Theroux. He was talking about and then signing...this book. He is personable, wanted to talk one-on-one before and after the event.

What impresses me about this book is that Theroux calls it like he sees it. The hardships of African travel are clearly defined. Recall the scene with the awful cassette tape on a do-loop while they bounce for hours in an old vehicle? Ouch.

message 6: by Quo (new) - rated it 4 stars

Quo A major point with Theroux's non-fiction works is the need to chart one's own path, to be a self-sustaining traveler rather than a part of someone's tour & even if possible, to cross borders on foot. Hence, his credo from ages ago: "the tourist is certain, the traveler is vague." Some would call this stuffy but it constitutes a particular mode of travel. Yes, Paul is now much older than he was when he rode the trains he detailed in the "Great Railway Bazaar" & in South America for "Patagonian Express", among other journeys but there is also a level of frustration that can affect one when traveling solo in a place like Angola. It seemed to me that the author had simply run out of steam, so to speak. For one thing & unlike in Namibia, Botswana, South Africa & other countries in the lower part of the African continent, there are no passenger trains in Angola, reason enough to chart a homeward bound path.

John Behle Yes, Quo. Theroux's skill, determination and writings have added to the enjoyment of my trips. The choices we make, the people we meet, the pathways we chart are made richer due to good travel memoirs.

My wife Vera and I just spent most of March in Australia and New Zealand. Friendly personalities, blue (mostly) skies and great (new and used) bookshops.

message 10: by aPriL does feral sometimes (last edited May 05, 2018 03:16PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

aPriL does feral sometimes  (cheshirescratch) Ju/'hoansi people:


aPriL does feral sometimes  (cheshirescratch) About those two South Africas:


I have heard people talk about, either scornfully or in a dramatic affronted fashion, depending on whether one was from the Left or Right politically, of "poverty porn", but I think this concept is stupid. If poverty did not exist, if these scenes were not there to video copy, we would not be able to see these images.

If, for example, I was bloody and injured from an attack on an American street, I would want attention paid to my condition and hope people would be moved to help. I can't help but think by trying to steer the conversation into the abstract philosophical concepts of 'shameful exposure of personal trouble' or 'immoral shameful begging for handouts' or 'shameful manipulation of people who are better off into giving out handouts' is no different than the slut shaming of many women. It is a backhanded slap, insinuating these people are poor on purpose in order to manipulate viewers into supporting their supposed lazy indolence or taking advantage of being poor by emphasizing their poverty and suffering, because you know, they really would like to continue to be poor and suffer.

Do people use their brains anymore?

aPriL does feral sometimes  (cheshirescratch) The visual contrasts of South African townships and Etosha are dizzying. I can see why Theroux takes the risks he does.

message 16: by Quo (new) - rated it 4 stars

Quo I have done some checking on Angola & noticed that in spite of some oil & mineral wealth, it has the highest infant mortality rate of any nation on earth. Beyond that, the level of corruption seems exceedingly high, even by African standards & the cost of hotels there appears to be exorbitant. But if I remember correctly, an Angolan friend of Paul Theroux was murdered & it seemed that there was an overwhelming set of circumstances that weighed against the author's having anything good to say about the country, especially since it has yet to recover from the ravages of a long war that had political & tribal overtones that remain at least somewhat unresolved. And not working passenger trains in Angola, though the Chinese are doing their best to revamp the rail network in Angola.

aPriL does feral sometimes  (cheshirescratch) Having experienced some of the poverty available in America and in Mexican border tourist trap towns, I understand the sour depression experienced by Theroux in this 2012-13 trip to Africa. I, too, am an Afro-pessimist. I was this sour in my views about Africa before I read this book because I have watched YouTube videos and read other books about Africa, and of course, the latest terrible news. I have to be honest, though, I find myself still standing in fascination at the slow-moving trainwreck.

There is plain poverty, and then there is Mad Max poverty. Mad Max poverty still catches my eye in unwilling but fascinated horror, and Africa has so much Mad Max poverty! I truly wish it wasn't so. I had hoped, like Theroux did, that he would find interesting places, not Mad Max places.

message 18: by Tippy (last edited May 08, 2018 02:01PM) (new)

Tippy | 11 comments So... It seems that you guys have fallen victim of the single story. I would highly recommend watching this video:


Also, it seems that by your own admission you don't have much experience with poverty from other places. Tourist traps are not exemplary of Mexican poverty for example. Poverty exists across the globe and Africa is so much more than poverty and violence.

If someone had only seen images, videos or stories of the United States that were from the Native American genocide, the civil war, slavery, mutilation and Jim Crow, they would have a very incomplete view of the United States. Yet the links you posted are mostly focused on historical events such as these. I would argue that it too is an incomplete story.

You write: "If poverty did not exist, if these scenes were not there to video copy, we would not be able to see these images." This is true. But again, I could provide images of the United States that would be appalling. I could show you pictures of white supremacists and mass shootings and children without clean water. But it is not the complete picture of America.

This would be a good time to ask yourself why it is that we only have this incomplete story of Africa. Why is it that the diversity group is reading a book about Angola by a white American author. Who tells our stories and why? Chimamanda talks about it a little in the link I sent, but it's worth thinking about.

message 19: by aPriL does feral sometimes (last edited May 08, 2018 02:32PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

aPriL does feral sometimes  (cheshirescratch) I apologize if my comments have misled you, Tippy as to the breadth of my understanding. I have read some novels by Africans, mostly Nigerian, including by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Plus, I am aware all African countries (excluding the northern Arab countries) have Black leadership, and many Africans are college educated. Even Zimbabwe has a middle-class and a wealthy elite, I have read, and it is near the bottom of every OECD statistic as far as I know, except for corruption.

Her main point, though she doesn't say it, is to be authentic as well as be aware Africa isn't all about extreme poverty and corruption, but Black people of all classes in Africa have family joys and there are educated middle-class classes everywhere in Africa. Her father was a college professor, she was raised in a Nigerian middle-class home.

However, I stand by my comments.

As an American citizen, I went to school like all American kids do, making friends, mixing with others of different economic classes. I laughed, I told jokes, I did my homework, I made artwork, I learned how to knit and crochet, ride a bike. Never learned how to make beautiful baskets - yet.

But my father was a schizophrenic, and my mother was a terrible alcoholic who began drinking as soon as she woke up with her morning cigarette. My dad heard my thoughts, or so he said, and I used to be suddenly beaten without explanation. He burned up every toy I had at age six because my mother refused to obey him and left the house to go drinking. My dad had a steady job and kept a roof over our heads, but we lived in a cheap 'temporary' WWII house built for returning vets, which is still standing despite having been built over a buried river. It has had to be leveled many times because it has tipped sideways, with the nails popping out of the wallsevery ten years or so. While my parents lived, I was beaten, occasionally starved, definitely neglected. My parents never once attended a single school event in my life time, although I won scholastic awards. My dad had dropped out of school in the sixth grade because of the Great Depression. I wore second-hand clothes from the Salvation Army until the eighth grade. I went without food when I was a toddler to the point my mother's neighbors used to feed me.

Friends at school had no idea of my home life, although I think some of the teachers knew. I was invited to homes by school friends which were clean, and their moms were kind and thoughtful. Until I went to their homes I had no idea people used vacuums, or that people actually put away garbage, clothes, papers, and stuff out of sight and not all over the floor. I did not know about cleaning windows, or using cleaning products. I learned by watching my friends and their parents about clothes, manners - silently, of course.

I am very aware of there being more than one story, and the obliviousness of the middle-class about impoverished underclasses. Btw, my mom was a Native-American.

message 20: by Quo (new) - rated it 4 stars

Quo I am not sure you meant to sound as dismissive of Africa as you did but the fact is that poverty is much the same there as it is in Bolivia or Bangladesh, even though the colors of the people are somewhat different. Beyond that, I am not sure that it is necessary for us to know quite so much about your own homelife as a child, though it does invoke sympathy at a distance. Reading Chinua Achebe or Adichie's novels does present a picture of a small segment of West African life much in the way that reading Oliver Twist presents a profile of an orphan but doesn't cause one to experience life as an orphan.

The subject has somehow shifted from the experiences of Paul Theroux & his most recent book about Africa but the fact is that he has lived in Africa and has more than a little sensitivity for its problems, poverty included. That said, what he resents most is the bureaucracy & inequality of some countries on that continent, seen from his own angle that brought him by degrees to Angola. One could stay in Sofitels or Hiltons even in Luanda or elsewhere in Angola & be removed from the sometimes overwhelming level of African poverty but this author's approach (especially having served in the Peace Corps in Africa) is to live much closer to the level of less wealthy Africans and that approach to travel comes at some risk.

On a happier note, Theroux's contact with the school teacher in Angola & her motivation for being there, so very far from home, is the kind of profile I admired most in "Last Train to Zona Verde" & may have reminded Paul of his Peace Corps experiences in Malawi so many years ago.

message 21: by aPriL does feral sometimes (last edited May 08, 2018 04:47PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

aPriL does feral sometimes  (cheshirescratch) I apologize to you Quo if you think I am dismissive of Africa, but I do not understand how you get that dismissal from my comments. I was responding to Tippy, not you, Quo, thus my stating of my background. She doubted we Americans were understanding how different stories existed in Africa. I am sorry if telling my real true life offended you..

message 22: by Tippy (new)

Tippy | 11 comments aPriL does feral sometimes wrote: "I apologize to you Quo if you think I am dismissive of Africa, but I do not understand how you get that dismissal from my comments. I was responding to Tippy, not you, Quo, thus my stating of my ba..."

I read your comments as dismissive because you said that you were an "Afro-pessimist," that it was a moving train wreck, compared it to Mad Max- a movie with barbaric, pointless violence and said that you had sour views about Africa. All of these things do sound very dismissive.

I only mentioned your personal experience because you've listed it as some kind of credential that somehow gives you the authority to talk about African poverty. Your story is not offensive, but irrelevant. But if anything, your experience just proves my point. Poverty is everywhere. Corruption and wealth disparity are everywhere. And this apparently negative opinion of Africa seems unfair. If that's not what you meant, that's what you said. So forgive me for interpreting your actual words.

You say that you are aware of more than one story, but frankly your conclusions don't seem consistent with that.

aPriL does feral sometimes  (cheshirescratch) Are you, Tippy, and Quo the same person? Why do you have two accounts? Just curious. Sorry if my conclusions do not satisfy you with consistency. I still think negatively about Africa's poverty and corruption, as I do of poverty and corruption everywhere. Apologies.

message 24: by Quo (new) - rated it 4 stars

Quo While my name is Bill, my listing at Goodreads is Quo Vadis & I assure you that I have only a single account. I assume that your comments are directed at someone named "aPriL" as mine were as well. I am not sure where this discussion is headed but I was asked to join in by someone connected with the site. I have not been to Angola but have traveled through 15 different African countries & lived in Africa for 2 years. However, the poverty there is no different at its core than that in India or places in South America that I have visited. So, in that respect I am in agreement with at least one of the commentators. However, it would seem that this discussion is no longer really about Paul Theroux's book.

message 25: by aPriL does feral sometimes (last edited May 08, 2018 08:35PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

aPriL does feral sometimes  (cheshirescratch) Ok, I'll catch you up, Quo. First of all, it is me, aPril, responding to both you and Tippy. Forgive me, but it appears you Quo may not know the difference between Tippy and my comments. Of course, I could be wrong. But your comments show a lack of awareness of my comment being a response to Tippy, not you. Then, you answered, then Tippy answered...Read above carefully.

Tippy decided aPriL, that is me, was into 1. defining Africa as a continent about poverty only (Tippy's accusation to me personally) - a single narrative, sort of like a White Privilege insistence that everybody born African must be poor and uneducated, or guilty of horrible military dictatorship corruption.

Some people get off in a shallow and excessive manner on 'saving the overseas underprivileged', as well as paying money for tours of overseas slums as well - it is called poverty porn. Tippy said thinking with this single focus about Africa (that Africa is nothing but Western World poverty porn) was the same as if non-Americans could think America was only like the worst stories non-Americans read about America.

I was telling Tippy I do believe the biggest story about Africa is mostly about poverty because of all of the things I have read over fifty years like Paul Theroux's book, but certainly I do not believe poverty is the ONLY African narrative.

I think there are middle-class Africans who are as blind as middle-class Americans, though, about the difference between being insulted that people only know your beloved country by the narratives of the poor people in it, and actually being a poor person in that humiliated middle-class African's country who is suffering. I wanted to describe I personally know poverty at close hand, and sorry, I do not agree the angst of a middle-class person upset by poor-person narratives is of equal weight to a real poor person's life.

I understand people want to emphasize more positive things like the African middle-class, Tippy. Quo, I explained to Tippy I know an African middle-class exists in Africa. I explained my own life was not a single narrative of poverty, although my life informs me about the nature of poverty, but I mingled with people of all sort of classes.

The middle-class class all over the world often IS very dull-witted about poverty, as I know from personal experience. A middle-class person trying to emphasize the education and wealth and resources of the middle-class to a poor person can sound very tone-deaf to a person who is poor. For example, a middle-class American talking to her poor American house-cleaner about her problems getting her daughter into a highly respected prep school, and then commiserating with her house-cleaner that her house- cleaner's local neighborhood public school was shut down again because of gunfire while also refusing to give that raise the house-cleaner needs to move to a better school district. Or extrapolating that to Africa, of a middle-class educated daughter of a college professor trying to equate an impoverished servant's ability to weave baskets (Tippy's video link) as a more noble narrative to tell than the servant's poverty.

Quo, I am being consistent with the above thread and Tippy's video link, but I am confused at your confusion of Tippy and me, aPriL. Sorry.

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