Biography & Autobiography. Travel. Nonfiction. HTML:The acclaimed author recounts his epic journey across Europe and Asia in this international bestselling classic of travel literature: "Compulsive reading" (Graham Greene). In 1973, Paul Theroux embarked on a four-month journey by train from the United Kingdom through Europe, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia. In The Great Railway Bazaar, he records in vivid detail and penetrating insight the many fascinating incidents, adventures, and encounters of his grand, intercontinental tour. Asia's fabled trainsâ??the Orient Express, the Khyber Pass Local, the Frontier Mail, the Golden Arrow to Kuala Lumpur, the Mandalay Express, the Trans-Siberian Expressâ??are the stars of a journey that takes Theroux on a loop eastbound from London's Victoria Station to Tokyo Central, then back from Japan on the Trans-Siberian. Brimming with Theroux's signature humor and wry observations, this engrossing chronicle is essential reading for both the ardent adventurer and the armchair tra
These are the first words of this marvelous travel book. In 1975, just after the fall of Saigon, Theroux decides to board a train in London and take it to
This is not a light glossy travelogue, Theroux takes us to some pretty dark places. There are under-age brothels, drug-dealers, pimps, shady soldiers and sex clubs. His wry observations are spot-on and he never shies away from discussing all the discomforts that come along with this type of travel.
His writing style is lean and fast and even after 35 years, the narrative still remains modern and fresh. I have not read this author in many years and thatâ€™s a shame.
Some brilliant observations of characters and landscapes, especially in India and Vietnam. However, the authorâ€™s personality as he depicts himself, although allowing him to enter into situations where I would never go
So, I am left glad to have read the book, but not wishing to join Theroux on another journey soon.
As the days passed I slowed down and, with Nagelâ€™s Turkey in my hand, began sightseeing, an activity that delights the truly idle because it seems so much like scholarship, gawping and eavesdropping on antiquity, flattering oneself with the notion that one is discovering the past when really one is inventing it, using a guidebook as a series of swift notations. p36
A workman came, dressed like a grizzly bear. He set up a ladder with the meaningless mechanical care of an actor in an experimental play whose purpose is to baffle a bored audience. p319
The Folio Society edition is another beautiful book, a satisfying size, font and well illustrated (not the authorâ€™s photos, but roughly contemporaneous), with a useful map at the endpapers.
He strips away all the b.s. and you get the sense that, if you went there, this is what you would see, behind the glossy brochure photos.
Ever since childhood, when I lived within earshot of Boston and Maine, I have seldom heard a train go by and not wished I was on it. Those whistles sing bewitchment: railways are irresistible bazaars, snaking along perfectly level no matter what the landscape, improving your mood with speed, and never upsetting your drink. The train can reassure you in awful places--a far cry from the anxious sweats of doom airplanes inspire, or the nauseating gas-sickness of the long-distance bus, or the paralysis that afflicts the car passenger. If a train is large and comfortable you donâ€™t even need a destination; a corner seat is enough, and you can be one of those travelers who stay in motion, straddling the tracks, and never arrive or feel they out to--like that lucky man who lives on Italian Railways because he is retired and has a free pass. Better to go first class than to arrive, or, as the English novelist Michael Frayn once rephrased McLuhan: â€śThe journey is the goal.â€ť
Ah, elegant prose, an erudite man who kept a journal and so can write with the immediacy of a novel, a promise of adventure through railways of legend, and an eye and ear for incisively describing character. Whatâ€™s not to love? Yet I soon felt an urge to skim. It was often depressing, this narrative filled with accounts of corruption, begging, prostitution, drug addiction and the just plain crass. (I really could have done without the long, involved graphic description of people defecating along the tracks.) Maybe itâ€™s just that Iâ€™m reading Theroux at the tail end of a list of recommended travel books and I canâ€™t help but compare him to other writers I encountered. Bill Bryson was often laugh-out-loud funny; John McPhee had a genius for eliciting from others stories that seemed to sum up a place; Rory Stewart exuded openness and genuine interest in the people he encountered. And though I had my issues with books by Pico Iyer and Elizabeth Gilbert, both in different ways showed compassion for the people they encountered and saw them as... well, human.
Theroux, on the other hand, struck me at times, if not racist or xenophobic, then maybe just plain misanthropic: â€śAfghans are lazy, idle, and violent.â€ť "I always found myself in the company of Australians, who were like a reminder that I'd touched bottom." Russians he often called monkeys. His snobby horror at the very idea of riding in third class was unbelievable, and his behavior in Japan was so very rude I wished I could apologize on behalf of all Americans. (Really--donâ€™t ask.) I rarely found in his account of drinking and whoring and peering at the landscape rushing past in trains any fresh insight or moving story. The one exception actually was his two chapters about visiting Vietnam in 1973 after the withdrawal of the Americans but before the South fell to the communists. Those chapters had a poignancy, vivid, memorable detail and Vietnam seemingly evoked a rare empathy in him missing in the other chapters. By itself those chapters redeemed the book enough to tempt me into giving it a third star. But in the end, at least for me, when it comes to a good travel book I prefer a less obnoxious companion, and I doubt Iâ€™ll read another book by this author.
Overall, i found the book uneven, though i suppose, honest, as he never tried to wax poetic as perhaps most dreamy travellers are tempted to do when in far-off and strange lands. In moments of inspiration, however, his prose is beautiful, haunting even. But that does not happen often in the book, although I noticed that towards the end, he seemed to have more of those moments, perhaps in anticipation of home.
Though this book was less than what I expected, this hasn't turned me off Theroux. This book showed a lot of his moody, temperamental side, but it had some flashes of really wondrous prose as well. I'd like to think that his other books would have more of that wondrous prose, and less of the attitude.
Paul theroux has a talent for making the characters come alive on the
From the first sentence: "Ever since childhood, when I lived within earshot of Boston and Maine, I have seldom heard a train and not wished I was on it." to the very last sentence: "Ever since childhood, when I lived within earshot of Boston and Maine, I have seldom heard a train and not wished I was on it." They are the same; it is what happens between these two sentences that makes for an enchanting ride. You'll ride through Asia at a breakneck speed and smell, see and meet the diverse people of a wonderfully diverse land.
After reading this book, you'll wish you were a travel writer, Mr. Theroux, makes it that much fun.
but because he and his new rich friend abandoned the old man at the station.
Many other reviews I have read deride Theroux for what might charitably be described as a poor attitude. Itâ€™s certainly true that he often comes across as unsociable, malcontent and overly negative, but given my own travel experiences I can hardly fault him for that, and I think he makes up for it by being amusing and entertaining. The Great Railway Bazaar is probably the best travel book Iâ€™ve ever read (not including AA Gillâ€™s, which are compilations of shorter pieces) because I generally find travel books dull or disappointing. Theroux, however, is an actual author with a beautiful prose style and acerbic wit, thus making his observations worth reading. The Great Railway Bazaar, while it didnâ€™t entrance me, held my attention to the very end.
Incidentally, I suspect that a lot of the readers who hate travel writers who criticise and complain have never left the developed world. Not all of them, but a lot. I donâ€™t understand how anyone could actually spend a significant amount of time putting up with the crime, filth and corruption in the developing world, and not forever more be sympathetic to a travel writer who doesnâ€™t paint the earth as an idyllic playground of beautiful cultures.
November 24, 2013
Theroux set out to travel across Asia by train, in 1973. This was before the Iranian revolution, and the Afghan war, and in the brief period when South Vietnam was trying to defend against the North without American troops. Theroux could therefor
Of course I paraphrase; but I give the example because it
I'm a big fan of the Theroux household: Paul for his writing, Louis for his weird weekends and deadpan humour, and Marcel for his command of the Russian language and his general good grace. They seem an extraordinary family. I had read Theroux Sr.'s work before - "The Consul's File" - and I have now become an admirer; for anyone who wants to travel, or enjoys seeing new places and putting up with discomfort as well, there's no better guide.