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A Tourist in Africa

Originally published in October and November 2004, in 2 parts.
Book 37 in my first 52 books challenge. (I reworked no. 36 and posted it here).

Author: Evelyn Waugh
Year published: 1960
Pages: 160
Genre: Travel, non-fiction
Where got: National library

This is the second time I cheat and read an author I’ve read before. Early on in the challenge I reviewed a novel by Waugh, and now I’m reading one of his non-fiction books.

I had decided to read Eric Newby’s A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush as the travel book of the challenge, but then I came across this one. Because I have read very few travel books about Africa, I decided it would be in better keeping with my mission statement.

The Story:
This is Waugh’s journal of his two month’s stay in Africa in 1959. He escaped the English winter, feeling rather decrepit, and returned feeling much better after a sojourn under the African sun. Hating air travel, he took the long route, first by train to Italy and then by ship to Tanganyika (now mainland Tanzania), stopping in Egypt, Kenya and Zanzibar on the way. The land journey took him around Tanganyika and Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), and he returned by ship from South-Africa.

This is of course, a travel diary, but it is edited and Waugh has clearly added things afterwards. Like most diaries that are written for others to see, it is impersonal, but Waugh’s sense of humour shines through. On the cover is a Waugh quotation: “As happier men watch birds, I watch men”, and he has, indeed, a good eye for human folly and idiosyncrasies.

His take on African history is interesting – he is obviously saddened by the treatment of the natives by outsiders but still manages to see the humour in some situations, like when discussing the theories about the origins of the Great Zimbabwe. At the time, many thought that the natives were simply too primitive to have been able to build such a structure, and Waugh subtly pokes fun at the theories. Although Waugh sometimes makes subtle fun of the people he meets, there is never any meanness in it, and his wit sometimes had me chuckling.

Rating: An interesting view of British Africa with some information on interesting places to visit. 3 stars.


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