Before Theroux became a popular author of novels and travelogues, he was a Peace Corps volunteer in Malawi and an instructor at Makerere University in Uganda. As his 60th birthday approached in 2001, he set out to traverse Africa north to south by road and rail, revisiting old haunts and taking the pulse of the continent. By the time he reached Malawi, he had been "abused, terrified, stranded, harassed, cheated, bitten, flooded, insulted, exhausted, robbed, lied to, brow-beaten, poisoned, stunk up, and starved," but found that he still loved Africa and Africans -- or some of them, anyway. Tourists and foreign aid workers are another story; the latter get a drubbing for propping up corrupt regimes and putting Africans off the idea of solving their own problems. Some of his observations about Africa's economic decline are astute, although his quest for explanations is limited to what he can extract from the cast of characters he meets along his way. Mostly, however, this book is an intelligent, funny, and frankly sentimental account by a young-at-heart idealist who is trying to make sense of the painful disparity between what Africa is and what he once hoped it might become.
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