[First published by Penguin in 2002]
For Paul Theroux, ‘Dark Star Safari’ is a return to Africa – an epic journey through countries new and familiar (once home, even) in the name of escape and rediscovery.
His travel writing reads almost like fiction, with characters so colourful in their descriptions they feel like friends.
But, more than anything, it is the writer’s courage that resonates through the pages. The courage to travel the roads the tourists deign to travel, through Africa’s dangers and upheaval. The courage to return to a place knowing it is a different beast to the one left behind decades before.
As much as ‘Dark Star Safari’ explores the majesty, beauty, and diversity of Africa in all of its rich culture and landscape, there is a pervading sense of disappointment that comes through in the text. Disappointment in that Africa is the hub of poverty, corruption, and disease (social, physical) the continent connotes. And, from a personal perspective, the reader feels the disappointment at the decay of the places he lived and worked – trying to empower Africans to better their own lives. The deterioration is palpable in the words. The hunger, the helplessness, the ruination at the hands of those supposedly there to help. Theroux juxtaposes darkest Africa from the rural to the modern, urban cities and captures their streets with striking accuracy.
As an African and someone who has travelled some of the exact roads written about in the book, the scenes and very nature of these places are perfectly captured, moving this travelogue into one of my favourite books. I revisited places, learned new facts, and smiled at the whimsy that can only be invoked by thoughts of Africa.
As much as the book may expose the dystopianism and social, political and economic disarray of the continent, it also lays bare the quirks that make it such a special place – one that, no matter how dark it may seem at times, is always home to mountains of hope; a perpetual transformation in waiting.