The Natives Are Dressless

Paul Theroux Goes Native

Theroux clearly loves Africa and Africans—he tells the reader as much many times. So a line that says the kindest of Africans are bare-assed wrinkles the brow. Does he mean that the poor are his friends—that even though the West abandoned Africa, kindess still trickles forth? Is it an attempt at humor gone awry? It is troubling, again, that he goes on to say, "What I loved most about Africa was that it seemed unfinished . . . lying mostly mute." The slippages (there are others) stand out all the more coming from the man whose celebrated dustup with his mentor, V.S. Naipaul, included his charging the elder with racism?

Nowhere in Africa: mzee Paul Theroux
photo: Milbert Orlando Brown/KRT photos
Nowhere in Africa: mzee Paul Theroux

Details

Dark Star Safari: Overland From Cairo to Cape Town
By Paul Theroux
Houghton Mifflin, 472 pp., $28
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Like an old-fashioned khaki-clad colonialist, Theroux seems to cherish Africa as a screen upon which to project his fantasies. Bound and gagged by economic deprivation, sweltering in a purgatory of AIDS and famine, Theroux's muted Africa exists for those Westerners who fancy themselves explorers, "discovering" places off their maps, tut-tutting at the shame of its desperation.

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