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27 of 30 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Searching for misery ....
I began this book on a trip to Uganda ... and finished it a month later when I returned to Africa on a trip to Ethiopia and South Africa. Paul captures Africa in ways that makes the book so enjoyable. I have already been to most of the countries he covered, and was amused at how well he captured the sights, smells and dynamics of the people and places. I look at Africa as...
Published on 10 Nov. 2005 by Amazon Customer

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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars a beauty until beitbridge
finally a long-distance linear travelogue by the old master and at times it compares with his old classics - railway bazaar, patagonia expresss, iron rooster.
it delivers interesting insights on the political and economical situation in eastern and southern africa from someone who has been there and also knows the people who are in the know. (apart from that he...
Published on 19 Nov. 2003 by A. V. Martin


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27 of 30 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Searching for misery ...., 10 Nov. 2005
By 
This review is from: Dark Star Safari: Overland from Cairo to Cape Town (Paperback)
I began this book on a trip to Uganda ... and finished it a month later when I returned to Africa on a trip to Ethiopia and South Africa. Paul captures Africa in ways that makes the book so enjoyable. I have already been to most of the countries he covered, and was amused at how well he captured the sights, smells and dynamics of the people and places. I look at Africa as Henderson The Rain King, in search for my inner self, and perhaps this is what I missed in Paul's book; he was only in search of a book to write.
I reached the end of the book also annoyed at his constant attacking of the "agents of virtue" only to find that in his last stretch he too became very much bothered with the constant nagging for change (and favours)....
To me it is obvious that he selected his experiences in a way to bring out the hardship he went through (which he chose to go through) and in places where he obviously stayed at a good hotel (as in Harare) he is silent on the matter, as if it wouldn't have been correct or might have set the wrong tone. I think in a way having been shot at in Northeastern Kenya provided him with a pedestal to elevate his quest as supernatural.
For Africa lovers definitely worth reading, for those that need to understand Africa there are books less biased.
Karibu
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars a beauty until beitbridge, 19 Nov. 2003
By 
A. V. Martin (london, uk) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Dark Star Safari: Overland from Cairo to Cape Town (Paperback)
finally a long-distance linear travelogue by the old master and at times it compares with his old classics - railway bazaar, patagonia expresss, iron rooster.
it delivers interesting insights on the political and economical situation in eastern and southern africa from someone who has been there and also knows the people who are in the know. (apart from that he obviously has the enviable knack of making contact with people easily).
certainly intriguing are his observations on the 'holier-than-thou' AID brigade - should help to give your money more efficiently if your are charitably inclined.
it also has its lyrical and harrowing moments - the ones that tell you that he really did it the hard way.
unfortunately the big 60 he reaches on route in johannesburg somehow seems to adversely affect mr theroux. his annoying ramblings on his sexagenarian existence (hey you have just crossed the dark star not shying away from any inconvenience so you are not that old, OK ?) leave a foul taste. as does the fact that once in south africa he seems to turn into a sexagenarian wealthy american tourist (sic). mala mala, trans-karoo first class, cape winelands, kyilitsha, blue train, the 'expensive watch stolen from the hotel strongroom' ?
had he only stopped in beitbridge.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Controversial view of Africa, 5 Jan. 2009
This review is from: Dark Star Safari: Overland from Cairo to Cape Town (Paperback)
I have read several Theroux travel books in the past and have always imagined him as a difficult man - easy to take offence, bad tempered and opinionated yet very intelligent and certainly an excellent writer. I read this book over 2 nights as found his journey across the African continent fascinating, and as he himself hopes a reader will feel, how much nicer it is to read about someone else's horrible times in travels from the comfort of one's armchair!
I found some of his views on aid and aid workers in Africa very controverisal. I don't know how many people would agree that the best way to help Africa would be to cut off all aid so they can help themselves. However it certainly gave me food for thought and I think there may be more than a grain of truth in what he says in that patronising endless aid is doing nothing to improve Africa's problems and may even be perpetuating them.
However I must say I also found his meaness apalling, refusing even a scrap of food to a semi starved child from his luxury train window, probably still using the same philosophy that 'aid is bad'. For all his criticisms of the system, he is still a rich Westerner who could afford to make a very expensive trip and travel where he wishes, yet still despises those who for whatever very complex reasons, are living in squalor.
Highly recommended.
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33 of 38 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars An interesting journey ruined by its narrator, 6 April 2011
By 
Katie Stevens "Ygraine" (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Dark Star Safari: Overland from Cairo to Cape Town (Paperback)
Dark Star Safari is an account of Paul Theroux's travels through Africa, shunning easy and convenient travel methods in favour of treacherous trains, dodgy taxis and tiny vans stuffed full of people and their belongings. Along the way he meets a whole variety of people from different walks of life, some old friends from his previous stay in Africa working for the Peace Corps and some new acquaintances. There are waiters, prostitutes, diplomats, Indian shopkeepers, white farmers, Rastafarians, ex-convicts and many more, all with a story to tell which become part of Theroux's own overarching story of his travels.

This book is interesting because of what it is: Theroux's journey is undeniably ambitious in scope and Dark Star Safari stands as a testament to that. It was a huge undertaking, accessing such a wide cross section of people from so many places, and the fact that he was able to write the book at all is impressive. It's also an area that is entirely new to me and I learnt a great deal from the book. I had no idea, for example, that there were so many Indians who migrated to various African countries to set up businesses and new lives, and Dark Star Safari is a gold mine of information such as this for the ignorant reader such as myself. He also presents a perspective on foreign aid (that it is often doing more harm than good) which I hadn't really considered before, probably because Africa isn't something that I read about terrible often, and certainly gave me pause for thought. My experiences of people travelling through Africa tend to come courtesy of Comic Relief and feature television personalities presenting pitiful sights while asking for my financial aid, so regardless of whether you agree with Theroux's controversial point of view, it's definitely interesting to read from the perspective of someone seeing the same sights and instead saying that perhaps aid isn't helping anyone.

My issues with this book don't stem from it's subject matter but from Theroux himself, who I found to be an utterly insufferable narrator. He is so scathing and dismissive of so many of the people he meets that he frequently comes across as boorish and unpleasant. He scorns the tourists on the Nile cruise on which he embarks partly because they are on a Nile cruise (the hypocrisy of this seems lost on him) and partly because they have the temerity to ask questions! How dare people travelling in a foreign country to see historical sights want to learn about things? What a ridiculous notion! He is equally derogatory about many of the diplomats he meets (although he does love name dropping), the Christian missionaries towards whom he is deliberately antagonistic, and the foreign aid workers who won't give him a lift, which seems rather unnecessary. By all means criticise the aid system, but being provocative towards the individuals who are trying to help and work within a flawed system primarily because they won't give you a lift (which is hardly part of their job) comes across as whining. He also seems to have an over-inflated sense of his own importance, being shocked upon his arrival in Malawi to discover that no one at the American embassy has responded to his generous offer to hold a few lectures during his stay there out of the goodness of his own heart (and so he can celebrate his birthday, of course).

I found his sexual references to be totally unnecessary and added nothing to the book. I appreciate that a lot of the women he meets are prostitutes and that they have some interesting stories to tell, but his self-congratulatory attitude at not taking advantage of them himself I found rather distasteful. In a similar vein, his sexualising of many of the women he comes across is unpleasant and makes Theroux seem like a bit of a dirty old man (which, at sixty, he kind of is). His completely irrelevant references to the erotic novel that he is inspired to write as he travels are equally unnecessary and I would have preferred it if this whole aspect of the book had been left out.

His writing is very journalistic in style, which some might enjoy as it feels very factual and efficient. However, when I read a travelogue, I want it to make me feel as though I'm actually there, not that I'm listening to someone a bit dull but very accurate tell me what it's like being there. Every time there is a market it is described as `medieval', and it quickly gets rather old and tired. There are other times though, when the descriptions are absolutely perfect and evoke wonderful images of these strange countries, such as when he describes Cairo: 'The smoke from the fires lit in braziers, the stink of the pissed-on walls, the graffiti, the dust piles, the brick shards, the baked mud, the neighbourhood so decrepit and worn, so pulverized, it looked as though it had been made out of wholewheat flour and baked five thousand years ago and was now turning back into little crumbs' (pp. 9-10). Sadly, these flashes of lovely writing come all too infrequently for my liking, and are overshadowed by the way that Theroux himself comes across. Not a writer I'll be reading again, I think.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Insightful, 23 Jun. 2013
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Insightful read. Great analysis of how corrupt African governments are and how ineffectual aid is. A must read for any do gooder
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Ruined by Theroux's pompousness, 11 Dec. 2003
By 
G. Andreou "G. Andreou" (London) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Dark Star Safari: Overland from Cairo to Cape Town (Paperback)
This had the potential to be an excellent book, but it's ruined by the attitude of the author. The book doesn't seem to be targeted at people who have travelled themselves. It plays on peoples' common preconceptions about Africa and says, "yep, it really is that bad, in fact it's even worse". Theroux's primary aim seems to be to shock, painting a very dark picture of how messed up Africa is. It's a very cynical book; he is very critical of governments and especially aid agencies ("agents of virtue"). The only positive remarks he makes are those concerning the beauty of the African landscape.
This may be accurate, if one sided, but Theroux is also pompous and pretentious. He belittles "tourists" (making it clear that he himself is a "traveller") and people who go on organised safaris in Kenya. He "resisted mocking" the "red faced" tourists at the pyramids in Egypt because they are "generally harmless". Of course they are harmless! And he is irritated by questions like "how the heck did they move that?". At one point he says people who take short vacations (as opposed to months traversing entire continents I suppose) are doing it "to feel foreign", but there's an amusing irony when he has to fly from Cairo to Khartoum after saying and he dislikes the way people fly to places instead of travelling overland from A to B.
I found all this really annoying, but it must be said that the book offers a fascinating and enjoyable account of the culture, history and the people of Africa, and there are many interesting and enlightening chats with local people giving an insight into life in Africa. If only it wasn't written by such an old-fashioned writer.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Describes Africa as it is, 9 Aug. 2007
By 
Caterkiller (Darlington, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Dark Star Safari: Overland from Cairo to Cape Town (Paperback)
I think Paul Theroux expected to find Africa had deteriorated since he last lived there in the 1960s and he is not wrong, so the book has a feeling of being a fait accompli before you have even got very far into it. Having said that, he does raise awareness of some key points regarding the interaction between trade and aid. Firstly if aid projects are a regular occurance in an area then the area becomes economically dependent and there are no incentives for the local populace to improve their own lives: if an aid project is discontinued they can be pretty certain that another will be along shortly to replace it. The "aid business" also loses sight of its aims: they know the project will fail once they have left so lose the will to come up with anything more innovative than spoon-feeding the local population. Aid projects are doomed to fail anyway if the national government doesn't act to reduce corruption and allow businesses and farms to flourish without confiscating any output they make over a subsistence level. (Tim Haford's "Undercover Economist" describes this in more detail). Throughout this book Theroux is pretty angry: he dislikes the western tourists who come on safari trips for not seeing "the real Africa", though he eventually relents and thoroughly enjoys a game-watching trip; he regards the multi-national charities as leeches and the born again Christian missionaries as dangerous and destructive to local communities. The downside is that he adopts a hectoring tone to repeatadly put the same points across; I agree with him that NGOs and churches are more interested in enriching the Mercedes dealerships of Nairobi than doing anything productive but repeating this point in every chapter reduces Theroux to the level of a fire-and-brimstone preacher. Just give us the facts Paul, and maybe a few ideas on what needs to change to improve Africa rather than just belittling others.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Theroux in Africa, 13 Mar. 2010
By 
M. A. Krul (London, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Dark Star Safari: Overland from Cairo to Cape Town (Paperback)
Paul Theroux's "Dark Star Safari" is his own "Heart of Darkness". Theroux, who had worked in Malawi and Uganda for a number of years, revisited the African continent at the start of the new Millennium. Full of expectation, he mostly finds misery, backwardness, and deterioration. Theroux is not a traveller easily intimidated - he visits such areas as Sudan and upper Kenya, which most visitors avoid. But even he gets frustrated and worn down by the relentless poverty and misadministration in so many African countries, and he shows it.

What's more, the book is also highly skeptical about the uses of foreign aid and aid organizations in Africa, both religious and nonreligious, which has been controversial (as the reviews show). I think Theroux has some good insights here, which are not refuted by pointing out that most aid organizations do employ many local Africans, since he sometimes implies to the contrary. In fact, his main point is not about whether or not Africans get hired, but to what purpose - he emphasizes the folly of foreign aid and modernization programs that implement labor-saving technology in a continent where most countries are full of unemployed men. And when foreign aid organizations do hire locals, Theroux points out these often tend to be relatively qualified people who are thereby drawn away from jobs like teaching and medicine, things sorely needed. In this way, countries become in various ways permanently dependent on foreign support, which gives moral hazard, allows their corrupt and sometimes dictatorial governments to get away with malfeasance, and creates further unemployment. These are serious issues and one does not need to be a supporter of the Washington Consensus to see them.

And Theroux does love Africa, this is clear from the book. As relentlessly cynical as he is about its institutions, so positive is he about many people he meets, from his drivers in Ethiopia to the fishing villagers on the Zambezi. One can have some doubts about the final leg of his trip, in South Africa, where he mostly hangs out with rich white people and attends parties, but Theroux trademark overland type of travel lends itself in Africa as elsewhere to a good insider's view of the continent, with not much left out. Theroux is not shy for example about depicting the great number of prostitutes, and quite correctly remarks that for many of the women involved, as long as they can be independent operators, this about the only steady income of their own they can have. It is of course dangerous and much of East Africa is dying of AIDS, but the women of Africa are endlessly more active and independent-minded than the men, and it is the women who do the work that makes Africa possible.

"Dark Star Safari" is a cynical but heartfelt journey through Africa, and neither romanticizes nor denigrates that mighty continent. Very recommended reading for fans of Africa and/or travel writing.
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4.0 out of 5 stars "Hoping for the picturesque, expecting misery...", 5 Feb. 2005
By 
Mary Whipple (New England) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (TOP 100 REVIEWER)   
Forty years after being a Peace Corps worker in Malawi and a teacher in Uganda, Paul Theroux returns to Africa and finds things changed--for the worse. Now approaching his sixtieth birthday and wanting to escape from cell phones, answering machines, the daily newspaper, and being "put on hold," he is determined to travel from Cairo to Cape Town. He believes that the continent "contain[s] many untold tales and some hope and comedy and sweetness, too," and that there is "more to Africa than misery and terror."
Traveling alone by cattle truck, "chicken bus," bush train, matatu, rental car, ferry, and even dugout canoe, he tries to blend in as much as possible, buying clothing at secondhand stalls in public markets, carrying only one small bag, and avoiding the tourist destinations. He is an observant and insightful writer, and his descriptions of his travails are so vivid the reader can experience them vicariously. His interviews with residents are perceptive and very revealing of the political and social climate of these places, and his character sketches of Sister Alexandra from Ethiopia (a nun who "has loved") and of two charming Ethiopian traders, a father and son, who take Theroux to the Kenyan border, are delightful.
For most of the countries of Africa, however, he has no kind words. Kenya is "one of the most corrupt...countries in Africa," everything in Kampala, Uganda, has changed for the worse, and in Tanzania "there was only decline--simple linear decrepitude, and in some villages collapse." At the U.S. embassy in Malawi, he finds an "overpaid, officious, disingenuous, blame-shifting...embassy hack" and, in pique, he wonders, "Had she, like me, been abused, terrified, stranded, harassed, cheated, bitten, flooded, insulted, exhausted, robbed, browbeaten, poisoned?"
Theroux has become curmudgeonly over time, and it is difficult to "travel with" a man who sees himself as a hero for making the trip at all, but who also refuses to give a half-eaten apple to a hungry child when she begs for it. He is very critical in his comments about other writers. He admires Rimbaud, who lived in Ethiopia in the 1880's, he visits Naguib Mahfouz in Egypt, and he spends his sixtieth birthday with Nadine Gordimer, an old friend. But Hemingway ("bent on proving his manhood"), Isak Dinesen ("a sentimental memoirist"), Kuki Gallman (a "mythomaniac of the present day"), and V.S. Naipaul ("an outsider who feels weak") are abruptly dismissed. When he ultimately refers to his own "safari-as-struggle," it is hard not compare his temporary and entirely voluntary struggles to those of the African people he meets along the way. "Being in Africa was like being on a dark star," he says. His book reflects this darkness. (3.5 stars) Mary Whipple
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3.0 out of 5 stars Can you handle the plain truth? Clearly I can't!, 16 April 2015
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This is a tricky one to rate. Dark Star Safari’s big plus is its honesty. You get Paul Theroux’s usual super high level of literary crafting combined with what is probably a very truthful insight into Africa. But in answer to the question---Is it a 'good read'? Unfortunately my answer must to be “No” simply because I didn’t finish it! And the reason I didn’t finish it is that it just got TOO depressing. Writing this a few months after putting it down, my overwhelming recollection is an impression of a continent littered with western vanity charity projects, now long since ended and left in ruins and a book peppered with stories of the corruption which blights so much of the underdeveloped world. It may well be that I have been left with a realistic impression. I’m not saying that depressing, truthful literature isn’t a good thing. All of us need to be given a regular prod to remind us of the paradise we really live in (only this morning I dithered for ages as to precisely which colour to paint my kitchen … how lucky am I?). But there’s no reason why a book can’t be honest and still be gripping. For want of an analogy, the film Schindler’s List was highly depressing but that didn’t mean I could get up off the sofa. The problem I had with Dark Star Safari is that it just made me miserable, it didn’t grip me as well. It was depressing and slippery ... it slipped right out of my hands.
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Dark Star Safari: Overland from Cairo to Cape Town
Dark Star Safari: Overland from Cairo to Cape Town by Paul Theroux (Paperback - 7 Aug. 2003)
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