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OVERLAND FROM CAIRO TO CAPE TOWN

BY PAUL THEROUX

[pounds sterling]17.99 Hamish Hamilton

ISBN 0-241-14048-X

Paul Theroux, the celebrated novelist and travel writer, born and educated in the US, first travelled to Africa almost 40 years ago. Then he was a Peace Corps volunteer teacher, working in Malawi. This book is an account of his return, to undertake a daunting overland journey that would take him from Egypt, through Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe to Cape Town, South Africa.

Packed with incidents and stories of what happened to him along the way, Theroux weaves a beautifully written tale, but one that is yet unremittingly despairing. With barely disguised anger he rages at the poverty and suffering he witnesses, placing blame directly on the incompetence and corruption of Africa's current leadership. He also reserves a good portion of criticism for the Aid workers, donors, and volunteers he encounters along the way, describing them as "however idealistic, simply agents of subversion.

While some of the details of Theroux's book are almost startling in their inaccuracies, and his complaints about appalling travelling conditions by train, boat and cattle trucks, and the constant attentions of beggars can all become tiresome, the book's strength is in describing his encounters with ordinary Africans. Here he comes into his own, presenting many witty observations, in particular of old friends from his Peace Corps days that he manages to track down.

While he describes his trip a revelation, he nevertheless finds Africa "materially more decrepit than it was when I first knew it, hungrier, poorer, less educated, more pessimistic, more corrupt, and you can't tell the politicians from the witch-doctors".
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Copyright 2003 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:African Business
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Feb 1, 2003
Words:278
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