IrishPenJen (United Kingdom) (2011/04/26):
Paul Theroux sets off for Cape Town from Cairo - the hard way. Traveling across bush and desert, down rivers and across lakes, and through country after country, Theroux visits some of the most beautiful landscapes on earth, and some of the most dangerous. It is a journey of discovery and of rediscovery - of the unknown and the unexpected, but also of people and places he knew as a young and optimistic teacher forty years before. Safari in Swahili simply means 'journey', and this is the ultimate safari. It is Theroux in his element - a trip where chance encounter is everything, where departure and arrival times are an irrelevance, and where contentment can be found balancing on the top of a truck in the middle of nowhere.
This is an unashamedly sentimental journey. In his 20s, young Paul Theroux was a teacher and Peace Corp volunteer in Africa. 40 years later, he goes in search of this lost youth. The book works to an old-fashioned formula, retracing the great treks of an earlier age of exploration - the feted Cairo to Cape overland route. The sensibilities are often old-fashioned, too. No chapter escapes curmudgeonly comments about how new-fangled inventions have ruined primitive places, from mobile phones to 'the way the Internet and our age of information have destroyed the pleasure of discovery in travel'. But if the feelings are from a former era, Theroux is initially keen to be seen as younger than his years. 'I was so self-conscious of my age that I often asked Africans to guess how old I was, hoping - perhaps knowing in advance - they would give me a low figure,' he writes. The answers ranged from 40-something all the way to 52 - still gratifyingly way too low. Hoping to find the spiritual secret to everlasting youth, he wends his way down to Uganda and the school where he been so happy teaching four decades earlier. But the more shadows of his past he revisited, the more he began to see the strength of his present. Africa became, he writes, 'an adventure in rejuvenation'. 'I now knew: The old are not as frail as you think.... They are full of ideas, hidden powers, even sexual energy. Don't be fooled by the thin hair and the battered features and the scepticism. The older traveller knows it best: in our hearts we are youthful... for we have come to know that the years have made us more powerful and certainly streetwise.' Towards the end of his journey, he wrote in his diary, 'I do not want to be young again. I am happy being what I am.' As a travel book, Dark Star Safari excels. As an autobiography about growing old, it soars. Review by Dea Birkett (Kirkus UK)
Paul Theroux is the author of many bestselling books, both fiction and non-fiction. His travel books include THE GREAT RAILWAY BAZAAR, THE PILLARS OF HERCULES and FRESH-AIR FIEND. His latest book, THE STRANGER AT THE PALAZZO D'ORO, is published byHamish Hamilton in June 2003. He divides his time between Cape Cod and Hawaii.