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Book Reviews: Travel


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Dark Star Safari: Overland from Cairo to Cape Town by Paul TherouxBook Cover of Dark Star Safari by Paul Theroux

Read by Tracy in February 2011

Recommended for anyone wanting to escape the rat race of westernised urban life.

I must admit I am a fan of Paul Theroux, we have similar travel styles, although our opinions of the people we meet etc are very different. This book documents Theroux's journey across Africa (Egypt to South Africa, including Malawi and Uganda) and his impressions on poverty, disease and the all pervasive corruption. His constant travels also highlight his ability to interact with locals and you notice the diversity of the countries that he describes. Theroux had previously worked and lived in Malawi and Uganda so his views on how these countries had changed were based on personal experiences, something I am sure a lot of travel writers can't describe. For me one of the best trains of thought in the book was when Theroux is stranded in Kenya and asks for a lift from two aid agency workers who promptly refuse, which is the second time this happened to him - so much for helping those in need. This then leads Theroux to question the use of aid in the plight to force western ideals on undeveloped countries and who has the right to say what countries are developed and undeveloped. Theroux talks to Africans, aid workers, missionaires and tourists to gauge their understanding and comprehension of the affairs of the continent. The countries he visits are extremely poor with limited food supplies, but aid workers travel around isolated in 4WD's and living in compounds surrounded by security guards, it makes you wonder how effective some programs are and if enough money ever makes it through to the right people.

Although Theroux sometimes wears his heart on his sleeve and seems to be a bit unprepared about history and events in some of the cities he visits, I find his travel narratives interesting and sometimes moving. For me, I am at least impressed that he tries to see as much as the country as possible foregoing a lot of luxuries that people take for granted.

On December 15, 2005 the New York Times published an op-ed piece by Theroux called "The Rock Star's Burden" criticizing Bono, Brad Pitt, and Angelina Jolie as "mythomaniacs, people who wish to convince the world of their worth." Theroux, who lived in Africa as a Peace Corps Volunteer and a university teacher, adds that "the impression that Africa is fatally troubled and can be saved only by outside help—not to mention celebrities and charity concerts—is a destructive and misleading conceit.

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Ghost Train to the Eastern Star: On the Tracks of the Great Railway Bazaar by Paul TherouxBook Cover of Ghost Train to the Eastern Star:  On the Tracks of the Great Railway Bazaar by Paul Theroux

Read by Tracy in January 2011

Tracy recommends for the wonderful descriptions of travels, travellers and life.

Since Theroux started writing his adventures the world has been transofmred (I am not saying for better or worse) as we have seen the Soviety Union collapse, China and India now boom and the west is in a state of flux. Last time Theroux travelled through Asia, Vietnam was still struggling from the devestation of the Vietnam War, but is now thriving and flourishing. For me, it is Theroux laconic writing style as he describes what he sees, smells and hears. In Ghost Train Theroux visits Eastern Europe and visits some fascinating countries we don't necessarily think of as a holiday destination i.e. Georgia and Azerbaijan. We see how these once communistic countries are adapting to western influences through any means possible and Theroux describes his Trans-Siberian Railroad experiences which is still on my bucket list to do.

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