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The Last Train to Zona Verde: My Ultimate African Safari (2013)

von Paul Theroux

MitgliederRezensionenBeliebtheitDurchschnittliche BewertungDiskussionen
3342559,509 (3.85)29
The world's most acclaimed travel writer journeys through western Africa from Cape Town to the Congo.
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A depressing account of South Africa, Namibia, and Angola. Somewhat repetitive, but well worth reading for a interesting prospective on modern Africa. ( )
  addunn3 | Jan 14, 2021 |
Another brilliant travelogue by Mr Theroux, as he journeys through South Africa (revisiting a few places from earlier 'Dark Star Safari') , Namibia, touches on Botswana's Okavango Delta and on to Angola. The author was 70 when he wrote this and you feel throughout the much older self than in previous works.
I think I so like his writing because it's so balanced. He writes with compassion on the horrors of a shanty town, but isn't affraid to ask the locals why- with unemployment rife- they're unable to pick up the appalling litter. There are lovely bits...but a lot of hostility, mess and chaos. Although often on rough local buses and mixing with the dispossessed, he meets up too with teachers...and with the super wealthy in a stay at a luxury elephant ranch (surprisingly this was one of the hardest hitting chapters in the book.)
Mr Theroux abandons his longer planned itinerary in Angola- a place wrecked not by poverty but by an entirely corrupt government, keeping the huge oil revenue and leaving the people to stagnate. I was left with a definite sense of Angola- its wildlife almost entirely gone, after years of war - as an entirely ghastly place with no redeeming features."Why would I wish to travel through blight and disorder...the squalid slum in Luanda is ... identical to the squalid slum in Cape Town and Jo'burg and Nairobi. ...We have bestowed on Africa just enough of the disposable junk of the modern world to create in African cities a junkyard replica of the West."
Highly readable, intelligent and informative. ( )
  starbox | Feb 22, 2020 |
Well - I managed to finish reading this book - but it was a real CHORE. It was too long - too repetitive - and too boring. The few interesting passages I scrambled to find were effectively overshadowed by his ranting about the ghastly living conditions everywhere he went. Especially in Angola. I've read many of Theroux's books over the years - and should have quit earlier - while I was ahead. I upgraded my original rating of 2 1/2 stars to 3 out of respect for the author. ( )
  repb | Oct 10, 2019 |
Sometimes you can judge a book by its cover and sometimes almost randomly grabbing something in the new books section of the library can pay off. This was my experience with Last Train to Zona Verde. I had heard Theroux’s name for decades but never read a single one of his sentences. Now I understand why people like his work. I have little interest in Africa, travel, or travelogues, but looked forward to reading Last Train every day because of the writing. It’s an example of the teller trumping the tale.

Last year, I stayed with my family at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge. The animals wandering the “savannah” in the middle of the resort were pleasant to look at, but only (at least for me) for a few minutes. The people working there were far more interesting. I took a tour of the resort led by a young lady from Botswana, who pointed out the architecture while also talking (not from her script) about her life back home and how different it was from what she had now. One night, as we used night-vision goggles to see the animals in the dark, my son and I spoke to a young man from Namibia who had been selected by Disney to work as an ambassador of sorts at the resort. We spoke about his childhood and he told us about how he and his friends would catch birds and play soccer (“football”) in empty lots. For forty-five minutes, we heard about his school, his family, his friends, and how much he loved Florida. It was one of the highlights of the trip, especially since I haven’t really been anywhere and basically find everyone I meet to be Central New Jerseyan, plus or minus a few degrees.

This feeling of How interesting people are! could motivate someone to travel to Africa, as it did Theroux and has for his whole career. Last Train treats his desire to visit Africa one last time, beginning in South Africa and moving up the west coast, through Namibia and eventually Angola. The first half of the book is pretty interesting: Theroux describes South Africa after Apartheid and the 2010 World Cup and the “voyeurism of poverty” that propels visitors to include visits to slums on their itineraries. When Theroux describes Bono as “the ubiquitous meddler” in “expensive sunglasses” who cheered on the violent cries of Julius Malema as akin to IRA songs, I smirked. But when he enters Angola in the second half of the book, I grimaced.

I had half-expected Theroux to be the kind of writer who patronizes his subjects and urges his readers to drop their Western assumptions about governance, economics, and human nature in order to better appreciate “the Other,” etc. This is not the case. The book is scathing, sarcastic, and the opposite of a commercial for travel in Africa. Theroux asks why so many millions of American dollars are donated to boost Namibia’s tourist industry when the equivalent industries in Maine and Hawaii are suffering. He describes his entry into Angola—“the frontier of bad karma”—as akin to Dante’s entry into Hell. The final chapter (“What Am I Doing Here?”) is a justification for his abandoning his African travels and a controlled rant against the masses of people he encountered. “I have spent a life of travel sleeping in strange beds and dining on sinister food, and I have only mildly objected, because it is in the nature of travel to be uncomfortable, if not scared silly. But insult is another matter, and gratuitous insult is objectionable for being unrewarding. You can stay home and be insulted; you don’t need to go ten thousand miles to be jeered at. There is no revelation in being yelled at, heckled, cursed, or petered, and began to happen with greater frequency on my trip.” So much for the romance of travel, at least travel into the “green zone” of the book’s title. So much for learning anything in Namibia or Angola that he didn’t already know about these places he describes as only good for writing another anatomy of melancholy. His trip begins with enthusiasm and ends with bitterness and futility; his record of it is well worth the read.
( )
  Stubb | Aug 28, 2018 |
With each mile he takes northwards, the poverty and corruption worsens and Theroux's spirits sink even further. Eventually he reaches Angola, a nation of immense mineral and oil wealth, which is run by a government that is simply "predatory, tyrannical, unjust, utterly uninterested in its people … and indifferent to their destitution and inhuman living conditions". The recent civil war that blighted the country for a decade has denuded it of all its wildlife, infrastructure and hope, Theroux discovers. Thus the Africa described in The Last Train to Zona Verde turns out to be an even harsher, more miserable, more depressing place than the one depicted in its predecessor Dark Star Safari. There have been "few improvements, many degradations," the author notes. And in the end, it all proves too much. But as a wake-up call (and possibly the author's travel-writing swansong), The Last Train to Zone Verde is an uncompromising, unsettling work.
hinzugefügt von John_Vaughan | bearbeitenGuardian (UK), Robin McKie (Jun 25, 2013)
 
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When my father used to travel, he didn't fear the night. But had he all his toes?
-- Bakongo (Angola) proverb
God almighty said to Moses, peace be upon him: Take an iron staff and wear iron sandals, and then tour the earth until the staff is broken and the shoes are worn out. 
-- Muhammad bin al-Sarraj, Uns al-Sari wa-al sarib (A Companion to Day and Night Travelers), 1630, translated by Nabil Matar
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To Albert and Freddy,
Sylvie and Enzo,
with love from Grandpa
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In the hot flat bush in far northeast Namibia I crossed a bulging termite mound of smooth, ant-chewed sand, and with just the slightest elevation of this swelling under my foot soles the landscape opened in a majestic fan, like the fluttered pages of a whole unread book.
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The world's most acclaimed travel writer journeys through western Africa from Cape Town to the Congo.

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