Dark Star Safari
by Paul Theroux
United Kingdom 2003
Dark Star Safari chronicles novelist and travel writer extraordinaire Paul Theroux's journey from Cairo to Cape Town, a pilgrimage that took him back to Malawi and the school where he taught as a Peace Corps worker forty years earlier. Apart from one flight, Theroux goes overland from start to finish. If Theroux had undertaken his journey by air I doubt that I would have read the book. Anyone who desires to understand Africa needs to suffer the pot-holed excuses for roads on which Africans take their produce to markets and sick people to medical help, and from which (in Tanzania's case) half of the country's population lives a day's walk away. Egypt, the Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and South Africa is Theroux's impressive itinerary through the African continent.
You can consider Paul Theroux as the glass-is-half-empty kind of guy or as a realist. I've often thought that with pessimism like his he should stay home. But in Dark Star Safari I find that he has many things right, especially the self-serving nature of and the devastating dependencies created by foreign aid and many charities. In Malawi, where he worked all those years ago, he saw the negative effects of aid most clearly. The chapter about his return to Malawi is one of the most powerful.
I admit to an old fantasy about bumping into Theroux in the back of beyond. In Chapter Thirteen I realized that we must have come close in Tanzania's Southern Highlands. He describes a bus accident that happens on a bad stretch of road one week after he passes through. I recognize the details. It was a much reported accident in Mbeya town and it occurred two days before I set out on the same route.
Timing in life: it's everything.