Dark Star Safari is as close as you can get to the bible about travel and life in Africa. In it, Paul Theroux certainly does not mince words. He tells it as he sees it, and some might find reason to disagree or be offended, particularly when it comes to the value of foreign aid organizations. But I find that overall his descriptions of Africa, all the way from Cairo to Cape Town, are spot-on.
When I recently came across a copy of Ticket to Timbuktu by Joe Lindsay, I jumped. The next best thing besides traveling to a place is visiting it by proxy when reading a compelling travel memoir. I was not disappointed. Ticket to Timbuktu is nothing fancy, nothing overly dramatic, but a very honest account of one man’s trip from his home in Scotland to Timbuktu and back.
The term "trailing spouse" is slightly less loaded than "expat wife" - you know, the one in high heels, cocktail glass in freshly-manicured hands, hanging out poolside with other similarly spoiled women complaining about the domestic help - but it still has an unpleasant taste of sheep-like creatures following their spouses meekly around the world without an agenda of their own.
Clearly, a lot of people landing in my domain have already heard of my blog and use its name as a search term, which is kind of flattering. Others are finding me because, apparently, they are tired of purchasing their clothes hangers from a street vendor and would prefer a no-hassle online retailer starting with "A" to conveniently ship them right to their doorstep.
It's not actually easy to describe this book. Is it a mystery? A literary novel? Or historical fiction? I suppose the answer is: a little bit of all. Most of all, it's a book about South Africa, both present and past, interweaving the story of what might have happened to Laura, a young South African anti-apartheid activist 20 years ago, with how much of that story her mother, Clare, remembers.
Africa House is an exquisite book. Reading it gives you perhaps one of the best descriptions of British colonial life in Africa in the early 20th Century that you will come across. And so much of what you find in Africa today is determined by its colonial past. In that sense the observations in Africa House are highly relevant for anyone with an interest in Africa.
The setting of Little Bee is mostly England, but the narrator is a Nigerian girl, who in several flashbacks takes you back to her childhood in Nigeria as she tells her harrowing story. Despite of this, there are flashes of humor in Little Bee, the characters are exquisitely drawn, and despite everything that happens, there is a hopeful note in it, one of survival and love and sacrifice.
I've talked a little bit about Apartheid before. But what I haven't talked much about is what life during Apartheid times (from 1948 until 1990) was like. How difficult it was for non-whites. How the Group Areas Act forbid you to own property in most of the desirable areas of town. How almost every facet of your life was dictated by the color of your skin. This book tells those stories.
Dark Star Safari by Paul Theroux is one long travelogue, spanning all the way overland from Cairo to Cape Town and touching on a host of African countries. What makes it different from more mainstream travel literature is Theroux’s alternative approach to his trips. He takes the term “off the beaten path” to its logical extreme, going where almost no other tourists venture.
Many many years ago, when I still had the stamina to read books of a thousand and more pages, and way before I'd ever shed any thought to living in South Africa one day, I read The Covenant by James A. Michener. I'd read many of his other books, but even then his story of South Africa had stood out as particularly gripping. Here is some background from this great book.