Saturday, November 19, 2011

Lone Traveler: Paul Theroux

Paul Theroux got me hooked on armchair travel.  The first book I read was The Great Railway Bazaar--a great circle route from London, through Europe, south Asia, Japan and back via the Trans-Siberian Railway.  Theroux was doing what I wanted to do and writing about it with a clear and original voice.  

Theroux is best known for his train travel books but he is more of an intrepid traveler who stays as close to native means of travel as possible.  Some have described him as described as a curmudgeon but that adds to the draw.  He has definite views about people and places and that creates for a natural tension that keeps you reading.  You want to know his reactions to things even if they're not your reactions.  He is also exceptionally honest in his writing putting even his vainest ideas and insecurities in his narrative.  In my all time top three best travel writers.  Strongly recommend his work.  You won't be bored.


1.  The Great Railway Bazaar: By Train through Asia (1975).  Starting on what was then the Orient Express to more exotic lines through Iran, and Pakistan and India.  He moves into the remote interior of Burma and through the war zone of Vietnam.  Theroux maintains his loner status while introducing to usual fellow travelers.  Bought at the Washington, DC Public Library books sale.





2.  Riding the Iron Rooster: By Train Through China (1988).  In the late 1980s, Theroux traveled from Beijing to Shanghai to inner Mongolia, the far western regions of deserts and mountains and the south to Hong Kong.  He brings stories from those who survived Mao's Cultural Revolution.  Bought used at the State Department Bookstore.


 






3.   The Old Patagonian Express: By Train Through the Americas (1979).  More train travel from Boston to the end of the earth in Argentina's Patagonia region.





4.  The Happy Isles of Oceania: Paddling the Pacific (1992).   Theroux travels solo in his collapsible kayak through exotic Pacific Islands--Solomans, Fijians, Somoa, the Marquesas and Trobriands.  His unobtrusive travel brings him into the lives of local islanders.  Bought used but can't remember where.


 


5.  The Pillars of Hercules: A Grand Tour of the Mediterranean (1995).  Initially Theroux is reluctant to follow this well traveled circuit but his method of travel makes his tour of the Mediterranean different from all others.  He moves clockwise from Gilbrator toward Greece and Albania (Albania is perhaps the most surreal part of the trip), Israel, Egypt and ending with a meeting with Paul Bowles in Morocco.   Bought used somewhere.