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Remote People (Penguin Modern Classics) Kindle Edition
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Waugh divides his African travel book into two sections (one dealing with the Abyssinian trip, the other with an extended tour through Zanzibar, Kenya, Uganda, the Congo and South Africa), and three nightmares, vividly detailing the various, accumulative problems that beset the traveller, such as unhelpful officials and lousy food. Waugh is a much more sympathetic voyager than the more heroic likes of Chatwin or Raban - his whining about lack of bath water or pesky mosquitos is more refreshing than some writers' spiritual journeys.
Despite his attempts at objectivity, 'Remote people' is written, as we might expect, from a very jaundiced viewpoint. Waugh's experiences aren't really 'Alice' at all, simply a concatenation of minor mishaps, local eccentricites and cultural differences in very poor countries that only a very insulated Englishman would blow up and find surreal. Some of Waugh's ill-advised political theorising, especially his unconvincing defence of the notorious white settlers in Kenya's Happy Valley, make for distinctly ncomfortable reading, although one is grateful for Waugh's evident and lucid integrity to his own beliefs. It is surprising in a book of 1931 to see how many of the issues raised by post-colonial theory were already being painfully argued about.
Of course, we don't read Waugh for politics or sympathy to foreigners. Although written in a more descriptive, less dialogue-driven style than the novels, we find the same account of bewildered, uprooted Modern Man faced with the problems (and comedy) of the simple fact of other people (American professors absurdly reverent of Ethiopian religious practice; Seventh Day Adventists prone to seasickness; colonial magnates encouraging staff and guests to climb life-threatening volcanos etc.). The travelogue is less interesting than the rich set-pieces - the Abyssinian coronation; the bathetic trip to an ancient monastary; a rooftop cinema where the audience wilt sleepily in the sun; the efforts of native scouts to light a fire; a berserk ship journey down river with the captain trying to shoot game from his cabin, his passengers leaping off to search for any hits.
Evelyn describes the journey vividly and tells a range of amusing travel anecdotes. The only shame is that he did not visit more of Ethiopia..
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