Synopses & Reviews
Following the success of the acclaimed Ghost Train to the Eastern Star and The Great Railway Bazaar, The Last Train to Zona Verde is an ode to the last African journey of the world's most celebrated travel writer.
“Happy again, back in the kingdom of light,” writes Paul Theroux as he sets out on a new journey through the continent he knows and loves best. Theroux first came to Africa as a twenty-two-year-old Peace Corps volunteer, and the pull of the vast land never left him. Now he returns, after fifty years on the road, to explore the little-traveled territory of western Africa and to take stock both of the place and of himself.
His odyssey takes him northward from Cape Town, through South Africa and Namibia, then on into Angola, wishing to head farther still until he reaches the end of the line. Journeying alone through the greenest continent, Theroux encounters a world increasingly removed from both the itineraries of tourists and the hopes of postcolonial independence movements. Leaving the Cape Town townships, traversing the Namibian bush, passing the browsing cattle of the great sunbaked heartland of the savanna, Theroux crosses “the Red Line” into a different Africa: “the improvised, slapped-together Africa of tumbled fences and cooking fires, of mud and thatch,” of heat and poverty, and of roadblocks, mobs, and anarchy. After 2,500 arduous miles, he comes to the end of his journey in more ways than one, a decision he chronicles with typically unsparing honesty in a chapter called “What Am I Doing Here?”
Vivid, witty, and beautifully evocative, The Last Train to Zona Verde is a fitting final African adventure from the writer whose gimlet eye and effortless prose have brought the world to generations of readers.
"The virtues of being open to new and transformative experiences are rhapsodized but not really illuminated in this discursive and somewhat gauzy set of linked essays. Cultural historian Solnit, an NBCC award winner for River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West, allows the subject of getting lost to lead her where it will, from early American captivity narratives to the avant-garde artist Yves Klein. She interlaces personal and familial histories of disorientation and reinvention, writing of her Russian Jewish forebears' arrival in the New World, her experiences driving around the American west and listening to country music, and her youthful immersion in the punk rock demimonde. Unfortunately, the conceit of embracing the unknown is not enough to impart thematic unity to these essays; one piece ties together the author's love affair with a reclusive man, desert fauna, Hitchcock's Vertigo and the blind seer Tiresias in ways that will indeed leave readers feeling lost. Solnit's writing is as abstract and intangible as her subject, veering between oceanic lyricism ('Blue is the color of longing for the distance you never arrive in') and penses about the limitations of human understanding ('Between words is silence, around ink whiteness, behind every map's information is what's left out, the unmapped and unmappable') that seem profound but are actually banal once you think about them. Agent, Bonnie Nadell at Frederick Hill Assoc. (July 11)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Solnit not only thinks innovatively and writes beautifully, she also trips the wire in the mind that hushes the static of routine concerns and allows readers to perceive hidden aspects of life." Booklist
"Solnit is a distinctive and original writer....[A]lthough one might hesitate to call her a consummate prose stylist, her expressive, often beautiful writing finely conveys the force of her insights and vision. For the intrepid Blakean 'mental traveler' as well as for travelers of the physical realms, A Field Guide to Getting Lost is a book to set you wandering down strangely fruitful trails of thought." Los Angeles Times
"At its best, Solnit's writing in Getting Lost evokes some of the great writers of the West, especially the desert and its denizens: Edward Abbey, Willa Cather and, perhaps most of all, Mary Austin, with whom Solnit shares a feminist sensibility about the place of humans in the natural world." San Diego Union-Tribune
Praise for The Faraway Nearby
“The Faraway Nearby is a masterpiece, about nothing less than the story (the myth, the fairy tale) we are living, about how we can step out of that story to become who we are, who we are meant to be. ‘The self is also a creation, the principal work of your life, the crafting of which makes everyone an artist, says Solnit, and she is one of the few writers alive able to be our guide in this ‘unfinished work of becoming. This book is a gift—it will make your life larger.” —Nick Flynn, author of The Reenactments
“Scheherazade nested one tale inside another in order to save her life; Rebecca Solnit dovetails her own intricate stories to trace the seemingly disparate but profoundly connected elements of a life: a hundred pounds of apricots, a mother vanishing into a haze of forgetting, the allure of ice, the way we locate ourselves in the world through telling stories, finding a voice for the silent self who becomes real as she or he is spoken. When you sit down to a new book by Solnit, you know that you'll come up from it changed: the world seems both more clear and more mysterious at once. Here's one of the most trustworthy voices we have; Rebecca Solnit makes, in book after marvelous book, a new map of the world.” —Mark Doty, author of Fire to Fire: New and Selected Poems
"Thoroughly engrossing—from Cape Town to Namibia to the Okavango Delta, Theroux is his inimitable, delightfully grouchy and incisive self…At times tragic, often comical and always gorgeously written, this is a paean to a continent, by a writer unafraid to give it some tough love." —Washington Post
"He has no illusions about the fact that he is just a passing visitor (a privileged one at that), but that doesn't make his observations, or exquisite writing, any less engaging." —Entertainment Weekly (
Best Book of the Year)
"Theroux is at his best when he tells their stories, happy and sad...Therouxs great mission had always been to transport us beyond that reading chair, to challenge himself—and thus, to challenge us." —Boston Globe "If this book is proof, age has not slowed Theroux or encouraged him to rest on his achievements…Gutsy, alert to Africa's struggles, its injustices and history." —San Francisco Chronicle "Everything is under scrutiny in Paul Therouxs latest travel book—not just the people, landscapes and sociopolitical realities of the countries he visits, but his own motivations for going where he goes…His readers can only be grateful." —Seattle Times "A rich story often laced with irony, the work of a keen observer, full of colorful encounters…Ever the astute questioner, ever the curious reporter, ever a forthright witness to history and the dilemma of the oppressed, alert to political thuggery, he chronicles the crises facing the sub-Sahara." —New York Journal of Books "Theroux takes you on a rocky safari across infringed wilds, disenfranchised poverty and coven luxury. He introduces you to a boil of angry indigenous peoples and unsettled migrants you wont meet on an itinerary tour....Go on, turn the first few pages. Then I dare you to put it down." —Charleston Post-Courier "As in the best of his many books, Theroux convincingly takes you along for every manic bus ride. His wonderment is yours, whether hes contemplating eating a flyblown leg of chicken, dealing with a ferocious Angolan border guard, or deciding that this time, hes had quite enough. Its a remarkable, teeth-gritting tale" —Everett Potter "His ability to map new terrain, both interior and exterior, and to report from places that seldom make the news, remains undiminished." —Booklist ( starred review) "Therouxs prose is as vividly descriptive and atmospheric as ever and, though a bit curmudgeonly, hes still wide open to raw, painful interactions between his psyche and his surroundings." —Publishers Weekly (starred review) "In this intensely personal book, Theroux honestly confronts racism, stigma, privilege and expectations...Reading this enlightening book wont only open a window into Therouxs mind, it will also impart a deeper understanding of Africa and travel in general." —Kirkus (starred review)
With such acclaimed books as River of Shadows and Wanderlust, activist and cultural historian Rebecca Solnit has emerged as one of the most original and penetrating writers at work today. Her brilliant new book, A Field Guide to Getting Lost, is about the stories we use to navigate our way through the world, and the places we traverse, from wilderness to cities, in finding ourselves, or losing ourselves. Written as a series of autobiographical essays, it draws on emblematic moments and relationships in Solnit's own life to explore issues of uncertainty, trust, loss, memory, desire, and place. While deeply personal, Solnit's book is not just a memoir, since her own stories link up with everything from the captivity narratives of early American immigrants to endangered species to the use of the color blue in Renaissance painting, not to mention encounters with tortoises, monks, punk rockers, mountains, deserts, and the movie Vertigo. The result is a distinctive, stimulating voyage of discovery that only a writer of Solnit's caliber and curiosity could produce, a book that will appeal not only to her growing legion of admirers but to the readers of Anne Lamott, Diane Ackerman, and Annie Dillard.
Written as a series of autobiographical essays, it draws on emblematic moments and relationships in Solnit's own life to explore issues of uncertainty, trust, loss, memory, desire, and place. While deeply personal, Solnit's book is not just a memoir, since her own stories link up with everything from the captivity narratives of early American immigrants to endangered species to the use of the color blue in Renaissance painting.
Whether she is contemplating the history of walking as a cultural and political experience over the past two hundred years (Wanderlust), or using the life of photographer Eadweard Muybridge as a lens to discuss the transformations of space and time in late nineteenth-century America (River of Shadows), Rebecca Solnit has emerged as an inventive and original writer whose mind is daring in the connections it makes. A Field Guide to Getting Lost draws on emblematic moments and relationships in Solnit's own life to explore issues of wandering, being lost, and the uses of the unknown. The result is a distinctive, stimulating, and poignant voyage of discovery.
This personal, lyrical narrative about storytelling and empathy from award winner Rebecca Solnit is a fitting companion to her beloved A Field Guide for Getting Lost
In this exquisitely written new book by the author of A Paradise Built in Hell, Rebecca Solnit explores the ways we make our lives out of stories, and how we are connected by empathy, by narrative, by imagination. In the course of unpacking some of her own stories—of her mother and her decline from memory loss, of a trip to Iceland, of an illness—Solnit revisits fairytales and entertains other stories: about arctic explorers, Che Guevara among the leper colonies, and Mary Shelley’s Dr. Frankenstein, about warmth and coldness, pain and kindness, decay and transformation, making art and making self. Woven together, these stories create a map which charts the boundaries and territories of storytelling, reframing who each of us is and how we might tell our story.
The worlds most acclaimed travel writer journeys through western Africa from Cape Town to the Congo.
About the Author
Rebecca Solnit is the author of fourteen books, including A Paradise Built in Hell, A Field Guide to Getting Lost, River of Shadows, Wanderlust: A History of Walking. and As Eve Said to the Serpent: On Landscape, Gender, and Art, which was nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award in Criticism. In 2003, she received the prestigious Lannan Literary Award. She lives in San Francisco.
Table of Contents
1. Among the Unreal People 1
2. The Train from Khayelitsha 14
3. Cape Town: The Spirit of the Cape 40
4. The Night Bus to Windhoek 59
5. Night Train from Swakopmund 79
6. The Bush Track to Tsumkwe 102
7. Ceremony at the Crossroads 118
8. Among the Real People 134
9. Riding an Elephant: The Ultimate Safari 160
10. The Hungry Herds at Etosha 180
11. The Frontier of Bad Karma 200
12. Three Pieces of Chicken 222
13. Volunteering in Lubango 242
14. The Slave Yards of Benguela 268
15. Luanda: The Improvised City 297
16. “This Is What the World Will Look Like When It Ends” 320
17. What Am I Doing Here? 333
Review A Day
"A Field Guide to Getting Lost
could be considered a very erudite sort of self-help book, dispensing, as it does, lessons such as, 'fear of making mistakes can itself be a huge mistake.' But it would be a shame to squeeze this book into a genre; it is a book brilliant in its connections and brave in its digressions. It is a book (of course it is) to get lost in." Anna Godbersen, Esquire
(read the entire Esquire review