Sep 16, 2010
For those of us able to find Glenn's house in the outer reaches of Novato (Peter, how long did you drive around the block?), his hospitality was far more generous than that encountered by Theroux on his return to Africa. Glenn thought briefly about cooking an all-Ethiopian meal, and then prudence took over. He ordered a complete dinner from a reliably excellent Ethiopian restaurant in Oakland and brought it all the way to Marin for us to enjoy. Starting with the Tusker beer (thanks Paul and Dan) and samosas, we then moved on to Theroux's personal favorite: a variety of entrees (in this case, chicken, lamb, lentils, and greens) eaten with a gluten-free bread wrap called injera, which Theroux likened to the taste of a dirty bathmat. It certainly tasted fine to us, and except for a few carpet spills and aching knees (from eating native style in the living room), our meal was utterly without complaint.
Paul Theroux's return to Africa, after a 40-year hiatus following his Peace Corps stint in Malawi, proved both eye-opening and profoundly disappointing. In Dark Star Safari, Theroux reflects upon the Africa he once knew and a new Africa overrun with NGOs whose project-driven handouts perpetuate a legacy of dependency and false hope.
Our response to Theroux's response was equally ambivalent. Almost everyone used the word "informative" to describe this 485-page travelogue, but thereafter our opinions diverged significantly. The book was anecdotal, insightful, superficial, repetitive, interesting, and always crotchety. Every last one of us found the trip through Egypt as tedious as Theroux apparently did, which is puzzling given his willingness to devote 53 pages to his trip down the Nile with a boat full of ugly westerners.
Ultimately, our 7.2 rating reflected a certain intolerance for a book that came quite close to our maximum page length and yet still failed to inspire us. We were more impressed by Paul's and Stan's African reflections than we were by Theroux's. In an experiment that likely won't be repeated, we did a blind vote beforehand and came up with a rating a half turn lower (6.7), which suggests that our open voting system may not be as objective as we hope.
Terry presented us with several fine options for next month, all of which address America's military experience in Afghanistan. Our decision: we're going to war with Sebastian Junger!