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On his loosely planned itinerary, author Paul Theroux expects to travel up the west coast of Africa, primarily by train and bus, from Capetown to Timbuktu in Mali. He has set no time limits and made no advance reservations, and he will do what he has always done - seize opportunities as he travels, make notes as he goes, and then describe what he sees. Ten years ago, when he wrote Dark Star Safari about East Africa, he was dispirited by what he saw, both in governments and in the daily lives of ordinary citizens. The people were even hungrier and more impoverished in 2004 than they had been in 1963, when he was a Peace Corp volunteer in Malawi.

This new book, written ten years later, shows even more poverty and economic horror, but Theroux himself is a much more thoughtful and sensitive narrator here, and as he makes sometimes risky trips into rarely visited areas, teaches a few English classes, and meets and admires a number of people dedicated to improving lives, he conveys that admiration to the reader. Theroux also reveals his own fears and insecurities, something I have never seen him do in previous books. Now seventy-two, he expects this to be his "ultimate" trip, and he no longer feels that he has to test himself. He becomes more "human," more one of "us," than I have seen before.

In Capetown, South Africa, Theroux notes that life for the poor has improved somewhat, though he decries the "township tours," run by tour companies, which now take tourists through poor townships - "the voyeurism of poverty," he thinks. Though these townships are improved somewhat, new and more desperate people have come to the city without any resources, creating new slums on the outskirts of the townships. By contrast, Windhoek in Namibia, founded by Germans, is clean, the city almost absent of trash. Tsumkwe, a rural crossroads in Namibia, however, is "a famine-haunted, thinly populated bush area, near the Angola border. The bush people he meets there are, he decides, the "most victimized and brutalized people in the bloody history of southern Africa...They are reminders of who we once were, our ancient better selves."

A trip to a tourist camp in Okavango Delta in Botswana establishes the dramatic contrasts between the wealthy tourist and the local people who live outside the delta, highlighted when some young people wait for tourists to finish their meals then ask politely if they can eat what is left on their plates. Angola, Theroux's next stop, proves to be the turning point. One of the richest countries in the world in terms of oil production and revenues, Angola epitomizes for Theroux the corruption at the heart of African life. No animals or birds exist in the wild here, thanks to years of bloody wars and the millions of land mines that prevent humans and animals from moving freely, and ultimately, Theroux must decide whether to continue on to a preserve to see the rare sable antelope with its five-foot long horns. Ultimately Theroux asks, "What had I learned?" And then answers: "Proctology pretty much describes the experience of traveling from one African city to another, especially the [horrific] cities of urbanized West Africa," a sad conclusion to this lifetime of travel.
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on 19 September 2015
Paul Theroux has shared his travels with me for decades. I have read his words and noticed him age, as well as seen a shift in his prose. He is over seventy now and to undertake the journey mapped out in The Last Train to Zona Verde must have been daunting. Still, the drive he has made him go and further about in corners of Africa most of us would not go. The pictures he paints are candid and represent the real day-to-day life in places of poverty and hopelessness. However, he also shows how the 'advancement' towards modern, western lifestyles has robbed the native populace of Angola and Namibia of the joys of what they had. Colonists brought promises of a better life, but left them with nothing, having robbed them of traditional skills which once made survival in extreme places not only viable, but tolerable.

There is a sadness to Thoroux's observations that run in tandem to his own diminishing abilities as he travels across the pillaged, denuded lands where corruption brings the population low in the face of untold wealth.

A somber book, but well written. Paul Thoroux's work will one day shine a light on the world that was to future generations, but for now we still have him to show what the echoes of empire have left.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 11 December 2013
I thoroughly enjoyed this very readable account of Paul Theroux's travels from Cape Town to Angola, aged 70. He still writes wonderfully, and although much of what he experienced on this trip, particularly in the cities, is rather depressing, there are genuinely uplifting moments too. Theroux makes clear that he is not finished with travelling or writing, and that is good news indeed. He is an excellent writer who brings his experiences alive for the reader through the tales he tells and the reflections he makes of what he has experienced, and this book is one of his best.
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on 12 July 2013
Don't expect a sugar-coated travelogue here. This is an honest, no-nonsense account of what must have been a very difficult journey through some of the poorest parts of South Africa, Namibia and Angola. Theroux is not shy of telling things as they are. His assessment of the social impact of the corruption endemic in Angola and other oil-rich African countries, and the impact of aid in Africa, is spot-on and needs to be shouted from the rooftops. If he's right, and I believe he is, then what we have seen in the Middle East will happen next in Sub-Saharan Africa. Yes, it's depressing, but it's a great book nevertheless.
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on 30 August 2014
An excellent follow-up to Dark Star Safari. Theroux seems always to be hoping for the best from Africa, but is continually disappointed. Read this book for a rare insight into two things: the state of "modern" Africa (or rather its non-state, and ponder upon the racial reasons for it) and secondly, an insight into the mind of that rare breed, an honest liberal who, having all the evidence of race thrust into his face, just cannot bring himself to admit it. A personal journey in psychological torture combined with a frightening look into what the West will end up as if liberals allow the Third World to overwhelm it. To quote Theroux, upon surveying the stinking refuse and decay of a typical African city: "This is what the world will look like when it ends."
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on 31 January 2014
Having lived in Africa for a while (Malawi) I have followed Paul Theroux's travels in the Continent.
Excellent descriptive accounts of first hand observations; fascinating insights into the lives of the indigenous population; deeply concerning emphasis on underlying politics of greed, corruption and embezzlement, and of course the' wearisome sameness' of situations everywhere he went, so much so that he could not bring himself to travel on to Timbuktu!
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on 23 July 2013
Paul Theroux is at his cynical best, lambasting the aid culture and self-serving government in Angola. As this will probably be his last travel book he spends the last chapter in introspective mode. A great read!
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on 31 July 2013
A typical Paul Theroux travelling, self-indulgent and self-revealing, an interesting character though, mixing sarcasm and prejudices against -dare I mention the word - 'developmental' efforts of most national and international agencies with a thorough-bred social and Afro-cultural pessimism, although one tends to feel reconciled by some sensitive descriptions of nature and beast. I only occasionally recognise the Africa I got to know in 15 years working in different parts of the continent. As an antipoison and to counterbalance Theroux's negativity of outlook I recommend to you to read immediately afterwards something from an African writer, like The Famished Road by Ben Okri.
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on 27 September 2015
I like the style and 'honesty' in Mr Therouxs books, l was first hooked with Dark Star Safari, another African adventure that describes the hopelessness and corruption of African people and their politics. As a traveller and backpacker for over 50 years I empathise with his ending in Zona Verde, having seen a number of decrepit cities what's the point in continuing the journey? There little new of interest to see so head to the place you call home and plan the next adventure!
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on 17 June 2013
This might or might not be the author's last travel book. Don`t
Think he will write another like this one as it felt like an epitaph for all his other books which I have mostly read. I am around the same age so it felt like being a fellow traveller on a personal journey in this book. So why are we here? It can take 7 or 70 years to ask this question, let alone answer it! I loved this book.
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