Friday, July 29, 2011

In a Sun Burned Country / Dark Star Safari

I've been spending more time at the office than I would like this summer. (Some summers are like that.) So, to while away what little free time I have, I've been catching up on my reading. At the moment I'm rereading In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson and Dark Star Safari by Paul Theroux. You'll find both on World Hum's '100 Most Celebrated Travel Books of all Time,' which is a good list, as lists go, and worth checking out. Theroux and Bryson are both masterful writers and storytellers albeit with decidedly different temperaments. Both find themselves traveling the length and breadth of vast, southern continents, through countries with histories of colonialism but with decidedly different presents. 

It's hard to look at modern, bustling Sydney and think of the former penal colony  it once was, or the seemingly endless list of life threatening flora and fauna native to the bush. In a Sun Burned Country is entertaining and funny like all Bill Bryson books. It's erudite, informative, and full of humor like the man himself. Bryson presents Australia as it was on the cusp of the 2000 Summer Olympics, a proud, successful, active and ambitious country in an unlikely place that rose to the challenges placed upon it.

As you might expect Dark Star Safari, also from the early 00's, is a little more of a serious and complex affair, like the place itself, and its author. Paul Theroux was a Peace Corp volunteer in the early 1960's, teaching English in Malawi. In Dark Star Safari he returns to Africa, now a celebrated novelist and travel writer of 60, to reflect upon what has changed and what hasn't in the 40 years since his departure.

Theroux turns his keen and notoriously irascible eye on what he sees at ground level en route from Cairo to Capetown. His novelistic writing style is amazing as always. He provides great descriptions of the places he travels through and the people he meets in what he calls the 'anti-Europe' or 'Dark Star' that is modern Africa.

Rick Steves spoke with Theroux about his memoir on Travel with Rick Steves.

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