Dark Star Safari

Overland from Cairo to Cape Town, Paul Theroux, Houghton Mifflin Company.

Several years ago, Failure interviewed Nigerian author Chinua Achebe and one of his chief concerns was how western media consistently portrays Africa in a negative light. It’s probably safe to say that “Dark Star Safari” will do nothing to change Mr. Achebe’s perception. As its subtitle suggests, the book recounts Theroux’s overland journey from Egypt to South Africa, an ambitious trip in which the author inevitably confronts armed bandits and endures other unsettling encounters with the locals. Along the way, Theroux also witnesses drought, corruption, starvation and other conditions that westerners commonly associate with Africa. In other words, the book could be viewed as another public relations setback for the so-called “dark continent.” 

It’s worth noting, however, that Theroux lacks what Achebe might refer to as a sinister agenda. Although he seems to have taken the trip primarily for the purpose of getting a good book out of it, Theroux clearly has a certain amount of affection for Africa. The fact that he has a historical perspective—having worked in Malawi and Uganda as a Peace Corps teacher during the mid-1960s—also makes a difference. It’s with a tinge of sadness that he reports how Africa has changed dramatically since those days, mostly for the worse. For those who have experienced Africa, many of the pictures Theroux paints will be immediately recognizable. Those who have never visited should find it a compelling and revealing look at the harsh realities of everyday African life.