Reading recommended books

30 12 2008

I’ve finally got around to reading a couple of the Africa related books that were recommended by blog readers a few months ago, with one or two lined up to be read when I get back. The two I’ve read were Buchi Emecheta’s “Joy of Motherhood” and Paul Theroux’s “Dark Star Safari”.

The ironically titled “Joy of Motherhood” is a harrowing tale of the tribulations of a woman who moves from a Nigerian village into pre-war Lagos and her struggles. It’s a well written, fascinating and engaging read, although not generally a cheerful one.

I quite enjoy Paul Theroux’s travel books even if he does sometimes appear to be a cynical, bad tempered old curmudgeon. “Dark Star Safari” is an account of his return trip to Africa. As a young man Theroux served first in the Peace Corps in Malawi and then taught in Uganda before Amin turned up. Going back to a place of happy memories is always a mistake and Theroux’s overland trip from Cairo to Cape Town is tinged with disappointment and cynicism. He gives wonderful descriptions of the decay he sees as well as engaging portraits of the people he meets as he travels, fellow travellers, old colleagues and helpful locals. He shows a genuine warmth for some but is ready to pass judgement on others. His pours his greatest scorn on missionaries and aid workers, but nicely expresses one of Africa’s problems when he is urged to send his sons to work in Africa. He asks his former pupil who’s making the request where his numerous children are to be told they’re in western countries earning good money. Theroux seems to start seeing Africa’s reliance on outsiders to help them with an unwillingness to help themselves as part of the problem. It is a good book and well worth reading. He captures the differences between countries as well as the similarities, avoiding the common mistake of viewing Africa as a homogeneous block of misery and disaster. It’s an Africa I can partly recognise, but am relieved that there are differences too.

Thanks to OurManInCameroon and BamendaBabe for the recommendations.

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