Archive - August 10, 2009

1
To Die On Kilimanjaro, Part 1
2
The Barber of Mozambique–The Man Who Made Theroux A Writer
3
Theroux's Other African Fiction, Part 9
4
Silver Dollar For The Peace Corps

To Die On Kilimanjaro, Part 1

There was a wonderful piece in The New York Times, a year or so ago, a special magazine section called Play, on November 2, 2007, written by Tom Bissell (Uzbekistan 1996) and author of Chasing the Sea as well as two other books. Tom went on assignment for the Times to climb Kilimanjaro. What is it about Kilimanjaro that makes people want to write about it? Hemingway wrote a long story, The Snows of Kilimanjaro,that had nothing to do with Kilimanjaro, but nevertheless Hemingway began his short story, “Kilimanjaro is a snow covered mountain 19,710 feet high, and it is said to be the highest mountain in Africa. Its western summit is called the Masai “Ngaje Ngai,” the House of God. Close to the western summit there is the dried and frozen carcass of a leopard. No one has explained what the leopard was seeking at that altitude.” Now Tom had the . . .

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The Barber of Mozambique–The Man Who Made Theroux A Writer

[I am not sure where I found this short piece by Theroux, but it says it all about him, and why he is such a great writer.] I remember a particular day in Mozambique, in a terrible little country town, getting a haircut from a Portuguese barber. He had come to the African bush from rural Portugal to be a barber. . . . This barber did not speak English, I did not speak Portuguese, yet when I addressed his African servant in Chinyanja, his own language, the Portuguese man said in Portuguese, ‘Ask the bwana what his Africans are like.’ And that was how we held a conversation – the barber spoke Portuguese to the African, who translated it into Chinyanja for me; and I replied in Chinyanja, which the African kept translating into Portuguese for the barber. The barber kept saying – and the African kept translating – . . .

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Theroux's Other African Fiction, Part 9

Theroux would return to Africa in fiction in two other novels. My Secret HIstory (1989) and My Other Life (1996). These are fascinating accounts of how a writer uses his own life to create something else. I’ll write about these books in upcoming blogs, but first let me tell you one story that Moritz Thomsen (Ecuador 1965-67), author of the best book on the Peace Corps, Living Poor, told me. I had asked Moritz why he titled his travel book to Brazil, The Saddest Pleasure, taking the line from Paul Theroux’s Picture Palace where the Frenchman says, “Travel is the saddest of the pleasures.” Thomsen replied, “It was the Frenchman who said travel was the saddest of the pleasures. I wish you had asked him. Though now it occurs to me that perhaps there was no Frenchman and Theroux just made him up; he has been known to do things . . .

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