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The Great Railway Bazaar: By Train Through Asia Paperback – 27 Jun 1996

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Product details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd; New edition edition (27 Jun 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 014024980X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140249804
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 2.3 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 525,413 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

More About the Author

Paul Theroux was born and educated in the United States. After graduating from university in 1963, he travelled first to Italy and then to Africa, where he worked as a Peace Corps teacher at a bush school in Malawi, and as a lecturer at Makerere University in Uganda. In 1968 he joined the University of Singapore and taught in the Department of English for three years. Throughout this time he was publishing short stories and journalism, and wrote a number of novels. Among these were Fong and the Indians, Girls at Play and Jungle Lovers, all of which appear in one volume, On the Edge of the Great Rift (Penguin, 1996).

In the early 1970s Paul Theroux moved with his wife and two children to Dorset, where he wrote Saint Jack, and then on to London. He was a resident in Britain for a total of seventeen years. In this time he wrote a dozen volumes of highly praised fiction and a number of successful travel books, from which a selection of writings were taken to compile his book Travelling the World (Penguin, 1992). Paul Theroux has now returned to the United States, but he continues to travel widely.

Paul Theroux's many books include Picture Palace, which won the 1978 Whitbread Literary Award; The Mosquito Coast, which was the 1981 Yorkshire Post Novel of the Year and joint winner of the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, and was also made into a feature film; Riding the Iron Rooster, which won the 1988 Thomas Cook Travel Book Award; The Pillars of Hercules, shortlisted for the 1996 Thomas Cook Travel Book Award; My Other Life: A Novel, Kowloon Tong, Sir Vidia's Shadow, Fresh-air Fiend and Hotel Honolulu. Blindness is his latest novel. Most of his books are published by Penguin.

Product Description


One of the most entertaining books I have read in a long while . . . Superb comic detail (Angus Wilson Observer)

He has done our travelling for us brilliantly (William Golding) --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

Book Description

Paul Theroux decided to board every train that chugged into view, ‘from Victoria Station to Tokyo Central; to take the branch line to Simla, the spur through the Khyber Pass and the chord line that links Indian Railways with those of Ceylon; the Mandalay Express, the Malaysian Golden Arrow, the locals in Vietnam and the trains with bewitching names, the Orient Express, the North Star, the Trans-Siberian.’ The result is the story of an adventure fuelled by the romance of the railways. ‘In the fine old tradition of purposeless travel for fun and adventure . . . compulsive reading’ Graham Green ‘More than a rich and original entertainment. His people, places and asides will stay a long time jostling in the mind of the reader’ V. S. Pritchett ‘One of the most entertaining books I have read’ Angus Wilson --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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First Sentence
"EVER since childhood, when I lived within earshot of the Boston and Maine, I have seldom heard a train go by and not wished I was on it." Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Greshon on 16 April 2009
Format: Paperback
After being bowled over by Mosquito Coast (1980), which is a terrific novel, I went on to read two of Theroux's travel books - first The Happy Isles of Oceania (1992) and then The Pillars of Hercules (1996). I found the former excellent and eye-opening. Theroux paddling around in his little kayak seemed to be a great adventure. I remember little of the second book and wasn't so impressed by it. Flicking back through my copy now I can see that I've underlined much of Theroux's copious observations on those Mediterranean countries he passes through: there's a lot in there.

In contrasts to these two volumes, which were written by an older and wiser Theroux, The Great Railway Bazaar (1975) - a circular train journey from London, right round Asia, and back to London again - is a much less learned affair. Once I understood the priorities and preferences of the young Theroux in this book I wondered how on Earth it could be a good read: Theroux doesn't know much about most of the countries he travels through, he only gets off the train when he can't help doing so (or to give one of the lectures which, together with an advance from his publisher, helped fund his trip - see the new introduction by Theroux himself), he openly admits that he hates sightseeing, he travels in the most luxurious (and expensive) part of the trains that he can (which often means in a private compartment) and he doesn't have a taste for idle conversation with those he meets. Not the best ingredients for a travel book, I thought, and a sharp contrast to the knowledgeable, constantly questioning and investigative older Theroux.

But somehow this is a fascinating book, and probably the best out of the three Theroux travel books I have read.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Donald Mitchell HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 30 Jan 2009
Format: Paperback
I recently read Ghost Train to the Eastern Star (which re-creates the trip described in The Great Railway Bazaar and comments on the earlier trip). Although I thought that the writing is better and more interesting in The Great Railway Bazaar, this book lacks the perspective on writing that makes Ghost Train to the Eastern Star special for authors.

For many years, I traveled across the United States by slow trains (on a free pass) over 72 hours. I was always glad to have the trip end . . . except for that one time I met an interesting young woman (but that's a story for another time).

I would find the kind of trip that Mr. Theroux describes to be unendurable. It's not surprising that he did, too. And that spoils much of the potential fun of this book.

He is fixated on giving you more than you ever wanted to know about bad meals, poor ticket-buying experiences, missing visas, getting drunk, poor sanitary facilities, and unpleasant companions. Mr. Theroux takes himself very seriously. That's too bad. A little humor about his situation would have helped.

From Ghost Train to the Eastern Star, it's not hard to know why: His marriage was falling apart and he couldn't really afford the trip. All I can say is that his problems show.

Imagine instead that a poor person had been granted this same opportunity: It would have been like a magic carpet ride. Unfortunately, you take yourself with you when you are a travel writer.

There are some good moments in the book. Occasionally, Mr. Theroux has enough knowledge about a country and its people to use his journey to comment in a helpful way about the culture.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Cheshire Gent on 21 July 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Having read most of Theroux's travel writings, I had saved this one up for my own recent journey in Asia. I was sadly disappointed by the really rather unpleasant tone of the book - Theroux is either drunk or simply unapproachable. He seems to eschew human contact when it suits him, but then berates other travellers for their unwillingness to indulge him. Woe betide you if you happened to be put into his berth - he is rude and boorish towards his roommates, unless you happen to be well provisioned with alcohol. He seems to spend the last third of the book in a grumpy, miserable cheap-champagne induced hangover, which is scarcely a joy to behold.

Worse than his attitude to other travellers is his disdain for most of the countries he passes through, an the perfunctory visits he pays to them. I appreciate that travelling by train means you are necessarily going to be a passing visitor at best, but there is seemingly no desire to understand a country or its people, beyond visiting sex shows, bars or red light areas. His seedy visit to a brothel was just plain unpleasant to read.

I would only recommend this to anyone who has already been to Asia - this would have put me off going, which would have been a terrible shame.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Fredrik Tukk on 5 May 2004
Format: Paperback
I read this book during a couple of train rides through India. It really captures the meatings you encounter on a train ride in such a country and the feelings you have both before, during and after the trip. The trip kicks off on Victoria Station in London and the authour has this idea about travelling around the world in train, since he realises that they all connects to a giant network. In the beginning he is very enthusiastic about everything, but as time passes by he gets tired and bored. This is especially clear in the last couple of chapters where he simply crosses Russia by almost not mentioning is and all off a sudden he is home. The core of this trip is the meetings with the people and the description of them in the book. The authous is very good at capturing the details and discuss them inside and out.
Overall this book captures a great trip and is both fun, teaching and interesting to read. Entertaining.
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