2006 Books Read – #15

Dark Star Safari by Paul Theroux

Dark Star Safari

I started reading this back in September (or was it August?). At any rate, once school started, that reading usurped this reading (as it so often does) and here we are. I’m on vacay now and I finished it!

The front/back cover quotes give a rather upbeat impression of the book’s contents, but as is so often the case with cover blurbs, they are off the mark. “Rollicking entertainment.”? I think not, Publishers Weekly. Now, it’s true that Paul Theroux cracks me up in a way that he really shouldn’t. I mean, I’m constantly rolling my eyes and groaning at his sexism, but that’s part of the reason he amuses me, I guess (he’s also snarky and observant). Anyhow. So, all throughout this journey, he’s working on this “erotic short story,” the fact of which is hilarious. It’s such a counterpoint to the situations he finds himself in while traveling by bus/train/boat/etc. from Egypt to South Africa. At the same time, it’s the ribbon that ties the whole thing together, because this trip was for him a return to Africa. In the ’60s, he spent two years in the Peace Corps, teaching in Malawi. To understand this book, you really have to read his “novel” My Secret History first. In brief, the main character, Andre Parent (bwahaha), a fledgling writer, joins the Peace Corps as a teacher (sound familiar?) and spends his time in Africa having a lot of sex with local girls.

Well, it was the ’60s. Now it’s the ’00s. So the trip is a reflection on what has changed and what hasn’t and whether it’s better or worse or just is what it is. It gets you thinking about the havoc that colonialism has wrought (and is still wreaking, really), not just in Africa, but all over the world. And it gives you just an inkling of an idea of just how complicated it all is, how many facets there are, how so much depends on who you are and how you’re looking at the situation—and how difficult (if not impossible) it is for outsiders to understand anything. His observations about the effects of foreign aid (both money/other donations and workers/volunteers) are thought-provoking.

Overall, I found it thoughtful rather than rollicking. Often sad, but always affectionate. Not recommended unless you’ve read some of his other work (including MSH). I’d think it would be just an eccentric travelogue without the context.