In a recently published essay, Theroux states that he eschews cameras and travel snaps. A bold claim, but his descriptive prose in Dark Star Safari is effective, creating countless pen portraits of conmen, friends, and landscapes as he makes his way from Cairo to Cape Town. Observations combine with a well researched (and personally felt) sense of history in unsentimental and provoking pictures of countries despoiled by corruption, widespread poverty, and mismanaged donations: the Malawi government that spent millions of dollars of aid on twelve new Mercedes; the impractical dogmatism of an old teaching colleague, now the president of Uganda. Theroux writes as a man who spent his early twenties in Southern Africa as a Peace Corps volunteer; it was in Southern Africa that he settled on the writer’s life. While there he saw several countries on the cusp of independence, the first step from African servitude to African prowess – exciting and hopeful times for a young man. Yet it has never quite happened, and in Dark Star Safari he sets out to discover why. Theroux’s argument against NGOs and aid agencies is both reasoned and uncomfortable reading: African countries will not improve while responsibility and motivation for growth and investment remain in Western hands. But his repetitiveness soon wears, as well does his own dogma. His “real Africa” is his own ideal; he sneers at tourists and revels in his belief in his virtue as a traveller (hence, the ultimate ‘Gappy’); his hints of platitudes (“the best of [Africans] are bare-assed”) and clunky literary references seem rather artificial, if not the products of afterthought. It’s a shame. While Dark Star Safari would benefit from some trimming to make it more cohesive, his humour, curiosity and liveliness make this a very readable book, and the background he provides fits in nicely to give a reader some grasp of the history of the continent. If you’re interested in the atmosphere of modern Africa, in all its gaudy colours, or want to relive fond memories, read this book.ARCHIVE: 1st Week MT2003