Sunday, November 14, 2010

Ghost Train to the Eastern Star

Paul Theroux

Reading A Dead Hand got me interested in taking another look at Paul Theroux's travel writing so I picked up this one, which was published in 2008. Theroux retraces his steps, as well as he can, of the trip he took for The Great Railway Bazaar, published in 1978. Theroux's itinerary took him by train from London, through the chunnell, across France, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria to Istambul. From there he went across Turkey, Gergia and Azerbaijan to Baku, on the Caspian Sea. In '78 he could go to Afghanistan and Iran. This time he had to detour through Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan to Tashkent in Kazakhstan, where he hopped a plane to Amihar on the border of Pakistan and India. Turkmenistan gave Theroux ample opportunity to exercise his inner curmudgeon. His description of the gold statues of Turkmenistan's leader "Turkmenbashi" and the empty luxury apartments overlooking streets full of homeless Turkmen are priceless. His actual trip must have taken place before the death of the Turkmen president for life, in December of 2006.

The second leg of the journey takes him through India and Sri Lanka before jumping to Rangoon and visiting all of southeast Asia - Myanmar, Malaysia, Thailand Laos and Vietman. He found Vietnm to be a very pleasant and well run country. None of the Vietnamese he met seemed to be angry at the United States for bombing them back to the stone age in the 60's and '70s. He even got a ride with a couple of former Viet Kong. Nice guys from his account.

Once again he took a flight from Kunming, in southern China to Tokyo, where he visited a pornography superstore in the company of a famous Japanese novelist.  Theroux travels all over Japan by bullet train, which he finds much nicer than the trains in Romania or Uzbekistan.

The return trip was on the trans Siberia Railway. Theroux's view of Russia by rail is nostalgic for the good old Soviet days. He dedicates several pages to his visit to the city of Perm, which he was not allowed in on his first trip. The Permians he meets are proud of the famous writers and scientists that were imprisoned there by Stalin.

Theroux revels in the discomforts of travel by train through the third world. I'd like to read his take on Amtrack some time.

Keywords: travel writing, Paul Theroux, Asia, memoir


Post a Comment

Comments will be moderated - so keep your comments moderate!

OpenID users will have their blog links again, yay!