Paul Theroux journeys across Africa, from Cairo to Capetown, exploring and seeing what his education work as a younger man has come to. Paul Theroux is a successful American writer known for his travel works, especially his writings on Africa. As a young man, Theroux was a professor in Malawi. During his time he befriended several intellectuals and young politicians who would later grow up to be prominent members of African society. He meets one of his old friends, now a high ranking government minister in Egypt who discourages him from pursuing his goal of journeying across Africa by land. Paul's journeys through Egypt are spent primarily with tourists, who he mocks in a curmudgeonly way. They view ruins and thousands of artifacts defaced by Muslims centuries before. He has difficulty obtaining a visa to enter Sudan but finally succeeds after two weeks. The sudden arrival of his visa out of nowhere portends a journey of stops, starts, and inconveniences. As Theroux moves south he stays on the one road that runs the length of the country. Journeying through Sudan and Ethiopia, he travels by bus over some of the most broken down road imaginable. Here, his bus is attacked by highway robbers but the driver manages to speed through their trap. On his way, he largely keeps to himself, occasionally befriending young prostitutes and working on a novel. The farther south Theroux gets, the more dilapidated the conditions of African society. He bemoans the folly of American charity in Africa and also the citizens' lack of ambition. In Uganda he meets with an old friend, now the vice-president of the country, who says that all the best people leave the country. He wants his own children to return to work within the nation. In Malawi he finds the old school that he taught at fallen into near ruin. Though it is still operational, the facilities are collapsing and dirty. A squatter lives in his old teacher apartment. When he finally reaches South Africa, he reenters a modern city for the first time on his six-month journey. He sums up his story of Africa as "Wonderful people. Terrible government."
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Best part of story, including ending:
I like Theroux's humor and insight. He is very observant. He's able to put together a narrative that few other writers could pull off.
Best scene in story:
As Theroux goes he gradually fades into the atmosphere of where he is. He wears only second-hand clothes he buys on the street. This way, he can talk to almost anyone comfortably and yet travel without drawing any notice.
Opinion about the main character:
Sometimes he judges African society by American standards, viewing them as a failed people in some ways. I personally disagree with this judgment, but maybe its the only reaction and American can have to some of the squalor he witnesses.