©2003 Paul Theroux; (P)2003 Recorded Books, LLC
"Dark Star Safari is a wonderful, powerful book, a loving letter to the continent from a writer who has discovered that he has carried something of its essence, like a talisman, through his adult life." (Sunday Times, London)
"[Theroux's] encounters with the natives, aid workers, and occasional tourists make for rollicking entertainment, even as they offer a sobering look at the social and political chaos in which much of Africa finds itself." (Publishers Weekly)
Freelance journalist, now living in Israel. Audible books listener for 30 years, when I had to pretend to be blind to get access.
This book -- and recording -- succeeds on so many levels it's hard to know where to start. If you like Bill Bryson, you'll love this one, too.
First of all, it's a captivating listen, so compelling it's almost impossible to find a place to stop.
Beyond that, it offers one man's view of Africa, and African history, beginning in Egypt all the way through South Africa. For much of the contemporary story of Africa, Thoreau writes about the 'Agents of Virtue' -- foreign missionaries and charities -- who have been "serving" in Africa for hundreds of years, with apparently no success whatever. His ridicule of these do-gooders -- who seem to drive around in white vans and do little more than perpetuate their own positions -- is both funny and well presented. Why, indeed, has Africa been the subject of charity for so many hundreds or years? Thoreau's argument makes perfect sense to me.
It's also a great literary read -- I loved the comparisons to Dicken's "Mrs. Jellybe", to Twain's 'Innocents Abroad' and to other works about Africa. It was fun hearing him tell about his own other books on Africa, and how they were received by Africans.
But maybe the best part of all is the sheer pleasure of the audicious story itself -- how this not-young man hitched rides in cattle trucks, rattle-trap buses, slept on the ground, avoided snakes, ate what they ate, wore clothes from the charity piles, all to fit in, to get the real feeling of Africa.
This is a book I will listen to again and again --If you've read this far, you've gotta buy this book. It's one of the best. Absolutely unforgettable.
I have admired Theroux for a long time and find his stories about travel to really give you a sense of being there and a sense of what travelling is all about. However Dark Star was a real disappointmemt. In this story Theroux is focused solely on himself, the book is literally all about him. His expectations are not met on this trip and he lets you know. The welcome he hoped for did not happen. The Africa he knew in the peace core and in his teaching position seems to have decayed and he can not get over it.
I had hoped to "see" Africa through his eyes. Instead I saw Theroux's bitter, inward turning self.
Though the author's cynicism is sharper than some of his other narratives, the narrator/reader does a great injustice to this work. The intoned cynicism and sarcastic inference often doesn't seem to accurately portray Theroux's intended tone. Worse, the reader's efforts to interpret accents and voices are miserable - his Egyptian interpretation is no different than an East African or Indian, and every one seems to have a sinister undertone. Just awful, and really too bad, because I think the book itself could otherwise be both insightful and entertaining.
Theroux's gentle misanthropy takes a sinister turn with the narration. The accents are painful listening. This narrator has been good with other material, but his similar, consistent, almost clownish characterization makes everyone the author meets seem to be a buffoon or evil. This is evidently not what Theroux intended. I fault the producer's selection of narratorial voice. Literally.
I listened to Paul Theroux’s “Dark Star Safari” with great interest. After being an immigrant child, I’ve spent a lifetime in Africa and have either lived in, or experienced, most of the places he discusses. From Cape to Cairo. I appreciated his astute observations, as also the veracity and honesty of his writings. I often smiled, thinking “that’s exactly what Africa is like!” I also admired the authentic way in which he travelled – so different from most spoilt tourists – and the difficulties which faced him on an almost daily basis. It’s a harsh continent, and as the locals often say: “Africa is not for sissies”.
I also agree with his take on the audacity and bare-faced cheek of missionaries, so adamant that their way is the only right way. However, it must be remembered that much good humanitarian work has also been done by them.
Years ago, I was a reporter on the Johannesburg newspaper which he mentions, "The Star", and later spent many years working for an NGO locally. I feel that his criticisms of Aid organisations are a little harsh, but not completely unfounded.
I grew up in the same small mining town where Nadine Gordimer was born, and I believe we attended the same school, although I didn’t have the honour of knowing her personally. I feel I know her a little better after the author’s warm descriptions of her and her husband.
Personal descriptions are just that, though, and I feel this needs to be remembered by the reader. The novel is non-fiction, and because there are so many factual references, one is easily drawn into the author’s personal feelings as though they were also accurate statements of fact. I agreed with most of his emotive reactions to people and situations, could see his points which were well made, but there were also some I would’ve liked to take issue with him over.
It was a pity, I thought, that his obvious dislike of Afrikaners surfaced as a blanket kind of prejudice. Granted, as a nation they tend to suck at their own PR, have been much maligned and are consequently sometimes over-defensive, but they are a people who also have many admirable qualities. It also needs to be remembered that had it not been for Afrikaners, South African cities could well be another Kampala or Lilingwe today, instead of the haven that the rest of Africa is streaming into. Legally or not. I found it jarring, that the savage, brutal and barbaric murders of Boer farmers over the past years, a fact which almost amounts to genocide, and which is fleetingly mentioned in the book, is simply overshadowed by the author’s personal bias or dislike towards the man who was trying to tell him this. It’s mentioned in an off-handed kind of way, of little consequence by comparison to his own irritation with the man. Conversely, the stealing of land in Zimbabwe gets very good coverage, and rightly so.
Otherwise, I found his observations of countries and people to be refreshingly open-minded and non-judgmental, imbued with intelligence, a good understanding of the Continent and its people, and a healthy dash of common sense. Sometimes a little long-winded perhaps - I also love Egypt, her gods and her delightful inhabitants, but after a while I thought: “enough already!”, but was soon enjoying the following chapters.
A good read, well-researched and accurate.
The narration by Norman Dietz is very good; he must be commended for attempting all those accents! It must have been a daunting task. Well done.
The only book by Theroux that I had read (or listened to) before was "Fresh Air Fiend" and back then I had this impression about the author that he was a little too grumpy about everything, especially when he described his trips to China. This African travel audiobook is no different: he constantly yammers about discomforts, delays, and irrationalities he experiences en route to Capetown. Still, I liked it so much not because of his grouchiness but mainly because he seriously questions the usefulness of charities and other NGO activities in Africa throughout the book. If you want to understand his point but have little time to listen to the whole audiobook, try the chapter on "The Back Road to Soche Hill School." It will give you a general idea of what he is trying to say, based on his experience as a Peace Corps volunteer 40 years ago as well as his many encounters with smug western aid workers on white Land Cruisers.
I want to read books that take me to a "place and/or time" I've never been. On the other hand, I love reading about places where I HAVE been.
My husband and I went to a book reading by Paul Theroux when the book was first published and have a signed copy so I felt that I must read it. But I really didn't feel like actually reading it so I held the hard cover copy of this book and listened at the same time. My husband didn't know I was listening (long hair covered my earbuds). He'd have thought me silly to buy an audio version when we already had the book.
I am a huge fan of Theroux and have read almost every book he has written (try Hotel Honolulu!)
Yes, he is a curmudgeon but I guess I am too, so he is a perfect author for me. The narrator didn't capture the real 'voice' of the author. Theroux is a funny, sardonic guy. The narrator made the author sound whiny and imperious. I wish we could have had the author read his own story. It would've come off differently.
Nevertheless, a good read....................and of course, I'm on my Africa "kick," reading what I can get my hands (ears) on about that part of the world.
This is a wonderful Paul Theroux adventure, if you ever had a desire to go cross country in Africa this is the book for you. It is on par with the other recorded books of Paul's other/railway adventures (which seem to not be available recorded any more), he describes the locations, foods, smells, such that you feel that you are there with him.
This was a great read as well as a great listen. I love the journey and it was well descriptively written from Cairo to the Cape. As an African, I found the Norman accents of the Africans way off key for the most part, at best they were misplaced for the most part. Looking beyond that narration flaw, the Paul presentation was stellar. I will be reading/listening to this again.
I've decided to read this book, rather than listen to it, as I couldn't get more than two hours into the audio version. The narration is unbearably annoying. The accents are completely over the top, rendering many of the people Theroux encounters as mere caricatures, and bad ones at that.
I also found that the narration made Theroux seem like an obnoxious, pretentious snob. I can't decide if I'd have the same reaction to Theroux himself if I were reading the book, instead of the listening to the narrator's whining delivery.
This is the worst audio version of any book I've ever encountered, I'm sorry to say. Others might enjoy it and get some laughs out of the crude accents, but it just didn't work for me. Glad I only used a "gift" credit from Audible to purchase this one.
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