I tried reading Paul Theroux's Elephanta Suite, which is a collection of novellas set in India, and I just couldn't get through it. I read the first story and half of the second before giving up. The characters were all unpleasant people doing unpleasant things in pretty unpleasant places. Bleah.
So on the advice of my former boss and frequent book swapping partner, I decided to try one of Theroux's travel books. Dark Star Safari is an account of Theroux's trip from Cairo to Cape Town, the entire length of Africa. He travels by train, bus, taxi, private car, boat - basically every mode of transport except an airplane.
His descriptions of the countries and the people he meets are fascinating, if a bit depressing. The cities in certain countries seem to be deteriorating rapidly. And according to many of the people Theroux meets, foreign aid money isn't helping things. Many African countries have become so dependent on handouts that they have lost any incentive to build their own industries. Or else the corrupt government officials take all the money, leaving the citizens in misery.
I did get rather tired of Theroux's holier-than-thou attitude about his trip compared to the safaris and trips tourists take. He mentions over and over again how rich people coming in for safari don't get the real feel of Africa - well after reading his descriptions of the real Africa, I'm not sure I'd want to get a real feel for it.
While I'm not sure I'll read any of his fiction again, I'll look for another of Theroux's travel books the next time I'm at the library. Odds are I won't be visiting any of the places he does, so I can at least read about them.