In Dark Star Safari (2002), author Paul Theroux travels along Africa’s east coast from Egypt to South Africa, through Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, and other countries. Though he begins his trip full of hope, he discovers that life on Africa’s east coast, as seen here in 2002, is not what he remembered from his Peace Corps days. Then he had been a volunteer in Malawi and a teacher in Uganda, leaving the country just as Idi Amin came to power. Despite the political upheavals of the 1960′s, his memories of Africa during that time are good ones. In 2002, approaching his sixtieth birthday, he is determined to travel from Cairo to Cape Town, believing that the continent “contain[s] many untold tales and some hope and comedy and sweetness, too,” and that there is “more to Africa than misery and terror,” something he aims to discover as he “wander[s] the antique hinterland.”
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What began as a mentoring relationship between established novelist V. S. Naipaul and Paul Theroux, a young writer working on his first novel, went on to endure as a “friendship” for thirty years as both writers traveled the world but remained in touch. They met when Theroux was a young ex-Peace Corp worker teaching in Uganda at the university in Makerere in 1966, and Naipaul, nine years his senior, became “writer-in-residence” there, though Naipaul hated teaching and mocked the writing of his students and the Makerere faculty. He did, however, recognize Theroux’s talent, and he did help and encourage him to get his novel published. Theroux, in turn, was an astute reader of Naipaul’s work, and both benefited from the relationship, at least at first. A crusty, critical, and often cruel man, full of contradictions, Naipaul was a difficult “friend,” and when he decided that he did not like someone, there was no turning back, no forgiveness for human failings. Theroux managed to navigate that minefield of hostility for thirty years. Despite the pettiness and frequent mean-spiritedness of Naipaul, it is also a portrait of Theroux, who published this book as his own enduring form of payback.