Bad News From Africa

In previous books, now classics of travel writing, Paul Theroux described his long train journeys through India and Russia, South America, and China; his ramblings around England and the Mediterranean; his paddling through Oceania.  More interested in people and landscape than in history and art, Theroux combines description and interpretation with social criticism and political commentary.  He prefers a rough to a comfortable journey, popular to high culture, colloquial to mandarin style.  He is engagingly frank about backward and brutal people, boring voyages, and self-created torments and believes the great traveler must also be a great masochist.  Theroux would agree with D.H. Lawrence that “travel seems to me a splendid lesson in disillusion.”

Cecil Rhodes had once planned to link the ends of Africa with a Cape-to-Cairo railroad, which was never completed.  A century later, Theroux has followed this route and described it in his book.  He traveled from Cairo by boat, bus, and cattle truck, and from Nairobi by rail, Lake Victoria steamer, and dug-out canoe on the Zambezi south to Cape-town.  

Theroux’s journey took him down the east side of the continent, through Egypt, the Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and South Africa.  He talked to Nobel Prize-winners Naguib Mahfouz in Cairo and Nadine Gordimer in Johannesburg—but...

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