Last Train to Zona Verde, by Paul Theroux (Penguin 2013)

Neil's picture

This is a kind of companion book to his Dark Star Safari (2002) in which he travels from Cairo to Cape Town, overland, down the right side of Africa. In this book, he attempts to travel south to north on the other side: 'until I find the end of the line, either on the road or in my mind'. He travels north from Cape Town, across Namibia, and into the terrifying, relentlessly dysfunctional Angola. His observations on the legacy of colonisation in these three countries with different colonisers, reveals a depressing corollary - it seems not to matter which European country colonised which African country, devastation followed, and is still, to one extent or another, being felt. Namibia is presently, arguably, the most stable, but is completely reliant on South Africa to the south for food and consumer goods, and it is still poor. Angola, though, is a special case - hugely rich in minerals and gas, the wealth is shared by a tiny elite, the rest of the population of 25 million are desperately poor, there is massive corruption and squalor. He finds the 'end of the line'. He says: 'The lessons I had learned so far were that an itinerary of urban squalor is unrewarding, travel is difficult, and sometimes impossible...and the repetition of squalor is ultimately so futile in its frightfulness as to be banal in the retelling'
I loved Namibia when I was there last year. I'm pleased we didn't go north into Angola.