The acclaimed travel writer and novelist chronicles his journey through Africa as tourist, adventure-seeker, thinker and hopeful critic.
Theroux (The Lower River, 2012, etc.) is the purest kind of travel writer; he offers no tips, no hotels gems or restaurant recommendations, and very few grand, clichéd this-is-what-my-journey-taught-me-about-myself moments. Instead, the author dissects a place and its inhabitants, luxuriating in its history and confronting its present reality. In what he terms his “ultimate African safari,” Theroux manages to incorporate—rather than avoid—the general viewpoints of literature about the continent. He revels in the simple, historical life of the bush but acknowledges its basis in fantasy. He decries the chronic ailments of governments and citizens and still appreciates the vast expanses of beauty, but without the wide-eyed wonder of so many travelers. In this intensely personal book, Theroux honestly confronts racism, stigma, privilege and expectations. He describes both the privilege and the perversity of slum tours and points out Western complicity in what he calls the voyeurism of poverty, which turns poverty itself into a profitable endeavor. After years of travel writing Theroux willingly questions the very relevance of the endeavor. If the narrative occasionally feels repetitive, it is due to the fact that the author is stressing an important point—though his constant ranting about rap music does start to sound like an old man griping. Still, even his age is significant, and Theroux continually demonstrates the wonder and enthusiasm that has led him on so many adventures during his long career. “Show me something new, something different, something changed, something wonderful, something weird!” he writes. “There has to be revelation in spending long periods of time in travel, otherwise it is more waste.”
Reading this enlightening book won’t only open a window into Theroux’s mind, it will also impart a deeper understanding of Africa and travel in general.