Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Last Train To Zona Verde by Paul Theroux

If you are a fan of Paul Theroux's nonfiction travel books as I am, then you are probably familiar with the many great journeys he has taken, mostly by train, car, bus or foot.  He likes to travel not with fanfare, but as a resident of the country would travel, so that he can experience what life is like for those who live where he is visiting.

Theroux started out as a Peace Corp volunteer as a young man, teaching school for six years in Africa, so he has an affinity for it.  He has visited Africa many times over the years, but The Last Train To Zone Verde details what he expects will be his last journey to Africa, as he is now seventy. The words zona verde mean 'what is green' or as he puts it, everything that is not the city.  This is what Theroux wants to see, the landscape and population the average traveler never sees.

He travels as he has in the past, riding old buses that are on the verge of breakdowns, spending hours at border crossings as border guards decide if they will approve his documents and let him through, and enduring the constant badgering of the indigent people he encounters everywhere.  He is appalled at the poverty of the slums that surround all the cities.  The population is deserting the country where they can at least grow and gather food for the dirty, crowded slums where there is little work.  He is especially appalled that the general population is left to suffer while in many cases, such as in Angola, the government is making billions of dollars from natural resources such as oil, diamonds and other minerals.  This enormous wealth tends to get siphoned into the pockets of a few politicians and business men at the top, who live in enormous walled compounds and drive expensive vehicles.

Theroux finds some things to enjoy.  He has an acquaintance who runs a luxury safari where the guests ride on elephants; an experience that provides the money to reintroduce elephants into the wild.  While he approves of the ultimate goal, he is not a fan of anything that restricts the freedom of the native animals.  He finds good people wherever he goes, and finds hope in the schools where Africans are desperate for knowledge.

This book is recommended for readers who enjoy travel writing, and especially for those readers who have followed Theroux over the years on his many adventures.  It provides a viewpoint of the state of Africa from someone who has experience with it, and has the clarity to identify the issues that create problems there.

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