Saturday, 16 January 2010

Book Recommendation: Travel

Ghost Train to the Eastern Star 

Paul Theroux

Yes, I admit it: Paul Theroux is one of my favourite writers. There is a number of reasons for it: he is a hardcore traveller with all the will it takes to leave home and wander about the world; he loves trains; he has the ability to observe places and people and put them into words; and his writing style is just marvelous...

Some weeks ago, I laid my hand on a recent publication of his: "Ghost Train to the Eastern Star". Of course, I thought, another book on train travel, his first after the "Dark Star Safari" dated back to 2002. But the volume seemed to have something special about it, so I took a closer look.

In 1973, Paul Theroux took a trip by train from London across the Near and Middle East into Asia, finally closing the circle with the back trip through the former USSR on the Trans-Siberian Railway. His travel experience was passed on in his marvelous book "The Great Railway Bazaar", reflecting in his usual style the places he visited and the people he met. Now, 33 years later, he embarked on the same journey -- again:

"Long after the trip I wrote about in The Great Railway Bazaar I went on thinking about how I'd gone overland, changing trains across Asia, improvising my trip, rubbing against the world. And reflecting on what I'd seen -- the way the unrevisited past is always loopin in your dreams... 

Thirty-three years went by. I was then twice as old as the person who had ridden those trains, most of them pulled by steam locomotives, boiling across the hinterland of Turkey and India. I loved the symmetry in the time difference... Had my long-ago itinerary changed as much as me? I had the idea of taking the same trip again, travelling in my own footsteps." 

Paul Theroux     by William Furniss

The reflective character and the personal perception shape this book in a typical way that not every reader might be comfortable with. However, the perseverance with which Paul Theroux follows his own footsteps and traces insight in backstreet honky-tonks and amongst the normal people is impressive -- and strikes me as unique and highly intensive in the reading experience.

My own favourite parts of the book take place in Turkmenistan (I had not the faintest idea about this idiosyncratic country before), India ("... too many people..."), Singapore (a highly critical yet expedient characterisation of its development) and Cambodia (a deep insight into the time of the Khmer Rouge).

The book is a clear recommendation for reading and self-reflection -- and you might feel like getting a copy of the trip from 1973 as well...

And for some further information on Paul Theroux, here is an insightful interview with him in the Daily Telegraph from April 2009:

Weblink:  Paul Theroux on Responsible Tourism Awards

"Theroux needs no more than three
of four brush strokes of his pen
to complete the most vivid pictures"

The Times

Andreas Hauser

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