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The Great Railway Bazaar: By Train Through Asia [Hardcover]

Paul Theroux
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Aug 1975
Bewitched by trains since childhood, this is Paul Theroux's account of an epic train-hopping journey in the 1970s from London to Japan and back again. His perceptions and anecdotes transport the listener beyond the unfolding landscape into a world of traveller's tales and mysterious events.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 342 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin (T); 1st Edition edition (Aug 1975)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0395207088
  • ISBN-13: 978-0395207086
  • Product Dimensions: 23.4 x 15.5 x 3.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,011,070 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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 the 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.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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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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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
By Greshon
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
4.0 out of 5 stars Grumpy Travels of a Fine Writer 30 Jan 2009
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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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Around the world in a train 5 May 2004
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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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Vintage Theroux 9 Mar 2002
From London to Tokyo by train (where possible) and back through Siberia - it's one hell of a journey, and sometimes it feels like it. The latter chapters especially are written in a kind of "Oh, let's get this over with" style, and you don't learn much about either Russia or Russians, except that there's so much snow and cold it drives everyone to drink. The earlier chapters are more enjoyable, and his account of Japan's sex and death fascination is quite an insight. The chapters on Vietnam and India are also enjoyable, and you have the impression that he wasn't as bored and lonely in these places as he becomes later.
Although this book was written in 1975, there are very few references to contemporary events, so I didn't have the feeling (reading it in 2002) that it was nearly thirty years old. No doubt everything has changed since then, and I'd like to read a more up to date account of the trip. Having read quite a few of Theroux's travelogues, I think he's mellowed with age and maybe if he went the other way 'round next time, London - Moscow - Tokyo - Calcutta - Kabul, he'd be kinder to many of those that he meets. Of course, it wouldn't be quite as entertaining then!
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars A book to make you sleep
I`ve never given less than 5 stars to a book by Paul Theroux, too many foul words, not a good book at all, ok if you don`t want to take a sleeping tablet.
Published 2 months ago by Mr. Leslie Ballard
4.0 out of 5 stars fascinating
I was fortunate enough to read one of the chapters of this book on the very journey it was describing but for those not so fortunate I will say that if you enjoy travel writing... Read more
Published 3 months ago by Jason Nevin
5.0 out of 5 stars Great train journeys
If you enjoy train journeys then hold onto your hats! Another great journey that only Theroux can describe. Whether you think he's a bit of a travel snob or not, read this book.
Published 4 months ago by Ross Stevenson
4.0 out of 5 stars Good book
On time delivery. A very good and well maintained copy with absolutely no damage at all. Cover in good shape as well as the spine and pages. Impressed by the service
Published 4 months ago by Adeel Kazi
3.0 out of 5 stars Learnt lots of things but difficult to connect to Paul Theroux
This book, Paul Theroux's first travel book, was published in 1975 and has been held up as a classic travel book ever since. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Janie U
4.0 out of 5 stars The Great Railway Bazaar
Bought this for a friend who is planning a train odyssey through Asia, am sure it will be inspiring and helpful.
Published 7 months ago by rosierosie
4.0 out of 5 stars "I have seldom heard a train go by...
... and not wished I was on it." So concludes Paul Theroux to his travelogue, published in 1975. Though he has published almost 50 works of fiction and non-fiction, this work is... Read more
Published 11 months ago by John P. Jones III
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointingly snide, strangely unlovable
Having read most of Theroux's travel writings, I had saved this one up for my own recent journey in Asia. Read more
Published 12 months ago by Cheshire Gent
4.0 out of 5 stars Remarkable
This book is the first 'travel' book from Paul Theroux - and is an amazing account of the characters he encountered on the trip, his own self discovery and provides an historic... Read more
Published 12 months ago by Alistair B Pentreath
4.0 out of 5 stars unique, well-written and quirky
The passage of many decades has not significantly dated this travelogue across Europe and Asia. At no time did I count pages or become bored, but I did read it in chapter chunks... Read more
Published 14 months ago by Dr John N Sutherland
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