Africa · Books · Travel

Discovering Theroux

I’m reading Paul Theroux for the first time and just barely one-third of the way in, I can see why he’s such a renowned travel writer. He’s blunt and not afraid to make strong statements, though not spiteful or too exaggerated. In Dark Star Safari, Theroux is traveling overland from Cairo to Cape Town, going through such tourist hotspots as Sudan and Ethiopia. From the start, he describes Africa as desolate, dangerous and awful and sets off on his journey “expecting misery [and] braced for the appalling.” At one point, he disses African cities, saying even at their best, they seemed like “miserable improvised anthills.” If you think, as I did at first, that all this meant the book was going to be a diatribe against Africans and an exposure of how appalling the continent could be, you’d actually be mistaken. He makes each place he visits seem interesting and rich in history, at least up to where I’ve reached, and with the people of Sudan, describes them with a lot of dignity than what’d one would normally expect. So far, I’ve managed to learn a lot about Rastas in Ethiopia, who the only warriors to break a British infantry square were, and the origins of the word “faranji,” a word that is used as far East as Thailand (slightly varied). Of course, he doesn’t hesitate to pull punches such as reminding a Sudanese of his government’s then-ongoing war against the South, when the person tried to lecture Theroux on  US responsibility for deaths in Afghanistan and Palestine (via Israel).