Paul Theroux's travel books include THE GREAT RAILWAY BAZAAR, THE PILLARS OF HERCULES and, most recently, FRESH-AIR FIEND. His latest novel, HOTEL HONOLULU, was published in paperback in May 2002.
Legendary travel writer and novelist Theroux will probably never work for the Kenya or Malawi (or any other country between Cairo and the Cape) tourist boards after the publication of this latest book. In it, he tells of being shot at in Kenya, depressed in Malawi, pestered in Mozambique, robbed in South Africa, and invaded by intestinal parasites in Ethiopia. But this is no mere tale of travel mishaps. Theroux, who lived and worked in Malawi and Uganda in the 1960s, has a genuine affection for the continent that comes through in his tales of African friends, old and new. Among them he counts a former political prisoner in Nairobi, the prime minister of Uganda, a boat captain on Lake Victoria, a former student in Zomba (in Malawi), a besieged farmer in Zimbabwe, and writer and activist Nadine Gordimer in Johannesburg. Safari is Swahili for journey, and Theroux's is truly fantastic. Typical of Theroux's best work, which focuses on a single trip, this book is recommended for all libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 11/15/02.]-Lee Arnold, Historical Soc. of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Copyright 2003 Cahners Business Information.
"You'll have a terrible time," one diplomat tells Theroux upon discovering the prolific writer's plans to hitch a ride hundreds of miles along a desolate road to Nairobi instead of taking a plane. "You'll have some great stuff for your book." That seems to be the strategy for Theroux's extended "experience of vanishing" into the African continent, where disparate incidents reveal Theroux as well as the people he meets. At times, he goes out of his way to satisfy some perverse curmudgeonly desire to pick theological disputes with Christian missionaries. But his encounters with the natives, aid workers and occasional tourists make for rollicking entertainment, even as they offer a sobering look at the social and political chaos in which much of Africa finds itself. Theroux occasionally strays into theorizing about the underlying causes for the conditions he finds, but his cogent insights are well integrated. He doesn't shy away from the literary aspects of his tale, either, frequently invoking Conrad and Rimbaud, and dropping in at the homes of Naguib Mahfouz and Nadine Gordimer at the beginning and end of his trip. He also returns to many of the places where he lived and worked as a Peace Corps volunteer and teacher in the 1960s, locations that have cropped up in earlier novels. These visits fuel the book's ongoing obsession with his approaching 60th birthday and his insistence that he isn't old yet. As a travel guide, Theroux can both rankle and beguile, but after reading this marvelous report, readers will probably agree with the priest who observes, "Wonderful people. Terrible government. The African story." (Mar.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.