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The Old Patagonian Express: By Train Through the Americas [Hardcover]

Paul Theroux
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)

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Book Description

1 Sep 1979
The "Old Patagonian Express" was the last train Paul Theroux took in his journey from Boston to Patagonia. Some trains were superb, most were deplorable. It was a journey of contrasts in people, in temperature, in scenery, in altitude, and in attitude. The people were extraordinary, eccentric, replusive and individualistic. There was the appalling Mr Thornberry, the bogus priest in Cali and the blind writer, Borges, in Buenos Aires. Paul Theroux has also written "The Great Railway Bazaar".
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


Product details

  • Hardcover: 404 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin (T); First Edition edition (1 Sep 1979)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0395277884
  • ISBN-13: 978-0395277881
  • Product Dimensions: 22.9 x 15.7 x 3.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 335,526 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

About the Author

Paul Theroux was born in Medford Massachusetts, in 1941, and published his first novel, WALDO, in 1967. His subsequent novels include Picture Palace, winner of the Whitbread Prize for Fiction, The Mosquito Coast, and the hugely acclaimed, Kowloon Tong. His travel books include The Great Railway Bazaar and The Pillars of Hercules. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Old Patagonian Express 15 Dec 2006
Format:Paperback
People tend to either love or hate Paul Theroux, and although I can sympathise with his detractors I belong to the former camp. He is an uncompromising author that calls things as he sees them, refusing to romanticise or sensationalise his experiences. Although he comes across as a misanthropist, it seems paradoxal that he should put himself into the situations he does. Travelling in Latin America, as in many parts of the developing world, is not an experience recommended for anyone who values their personal space or desires escaping from humanity.

From 'Riding the Iron Rooster', to the more recent 'Dark Star Safari', to this, Theroux concentrates more on the journies than the destinations, refusing to make life easy (or remotely comfortable) for himself. Theroux's maxim as a travel writer is that transport tells you more about a country than the 'sights' themselves: 'The journey, not the arrival, matters; the voyage, not the landing'.

One of Theroux's main criticisms is that he places himself too centrally in his non-fiction, that we learn more about him than the places he visits. He is at his worst when comparing himself to the other travellers he encounters, categorising and dismissing people with an immense and transparent arrogance. However, if accepted as part of the Theroux 'brand' you can forgive some of his negative characteristics and appreciate his relentless eye for the tragedy and comedy of the developing world. Probably his best travel book, The Old Patagonian Express finds him at his most archly ironic and entertaining.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Love him or hate him...but he is good... 22 May 2007
Format:Paperback
As others have pointed out, Theroux has a rather different style of travel writing from many others. Though he is clearly well read and conveys a great deal of knowledge through his writing, I have to agree that at times his judgemental nature regarding the people and places he encounters is annoying. The arrogance is profound but at times it almost seems naive - which for someone so well travelled seems bizarre.

At one point in the book, he comes across a guy in his young 20s who is reading a comic book. Theroux attacks this as evidence of a poor mind, is disappointed that he is not reading something more intellectually challenging! What exactly is he expecting a poor Peruvian to read - Byron? Bronte? Wordsworth? He almost seems to fail to consider the possibility that, in this young man's life, maybe comic books a form of escapism, where he can forget the poverty he lives in and engross himself in a fantasy.

I preferred Ryszard Kapuscinski's "The Shadow of the Sun" - that is to my mind the way travel books should be written. Tremendously informative yet at the same time capturing the very essence of the places he visits.
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Theroux's Masterwork 23 July 2003
Format:Paperback
This book is undoubtedly one of the benchmarks for travel writing. Paired with his other great travel work, the Great Railway Bazaar, Theroux manages to cover almost the entire globe by train, meeting a curious menagerie of characters on route and describing places as they really are - scary, smelly, dangerous, beautiful, confusing, beguiling - rather than duping readers into thinking that all exotic places are by nature fabulous. Like much of Theroux's travel writing it gives off a palpable air of isolation and loneliness - and for anyone who has travelled alone in the strange places of the world this tone is genuinely evocative. A tour de force that is still to be matched by any of today's writers.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
By Mary Whipple HALL OF FAME TOP 100 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
In 1979, Paul Theroux departed from his childhood home in Medford, Massachusetts, and began his train journey from the East Coast of the United States to Patagonia, on the southern tip of Argentina. A seasoned traveler, fluent in Spanish, Theroux brings this trip through the northern and southern hemispheres to life, traveling without a schedule, and observing his fellow passengers on the train and people at stops along the way.

In Texas he is astonished at the contrasts between Laredo on the Texas side of the Rio Grande and Nuevo Laredo across the border in Mexico, commenting on society and governments. Traveling through Mexico and Guatemala, he observes the poverty of the Indians and their lack of opportunities. In El Salvador he attends a soccer game and gets caught up in the melee and riots which follow it. In Costa Rica, the cleanest country he has visited, he finds himself stuck on the train with Mr. Thornberry, a New Hampshire tourist so boring that Theroux cannot wait to escape him--only to have Mr. Thornberry "save his life" by offering him a place to stay upon his arrival in Limon. In Panama he meets the "Zonians," from the Canal Zone, and in Cali, Colombia, he meets a married "priest" who cannot tell his devout mother in Belfast that he has "left" the church to marry and have children.

Throughout his trip, Theroux reads classics, particularly enjoying Boswell's Life of Dr. Johnson and Edgar Allen Poe's The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, both of which provide ironic reference points for his own journey. For literature lovers, the most fascinating section occurs in Buenos Aires, when Theroux spends many days visiting blind writer Jorge Luis Borges, who persuades Theroux to read to him. Ironically, one of Borges's favorite novels is The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Super book
Published 11 days ago by Michael Bush
3.0 out of 5 stars Quite interesting
This book took a little while to get into, because at first I wasn't too sure about theroux's disparaging ways with people he encountered. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Sarah
5.0 out of 5 stars Vicarious travelling
Incarcerated on a hospital bed for 8 weeks my kindle was my bed companion , I recall reading the Consuls Wife by Paul Theroux many years ago, my personal vacations have been... Read more
Published on 26 July 2012 by Tony from Romsey
4.0 out of 5 stars Another Solid Effort
It seemed The Old Patagonian Express Theroux was the only Paul Theroux travelogue I never heard about. Read more
Published on 24 Jun 2012 by Troy Parfitt
3.0 out of 5 stars The Old Patagonian Express
Well, now I've read this almost classic account in it's way, and I agree with the critics who felt that it was a disappointment in that it was sorely limited with describing with a... Read more
Published on 5 Mar 2012 by Artemistica
5.0 out of 5 stars Expertly Honest
I adored this book. Theroux's lack of sentiment and unwillingness to feel the need to inject humour into this travelogue makes it for me. Read more
Published on 1 Mar 2012 by M. S. Harris
3.0 out of 5 stars Readable, but Flawed
This is not the first Paul Theroux book I've read, but he's definitely an acquired taste. His descriptions are not particularly interesting, the conversations he records are... Read more
Published on 12 Oct 2011 by Seagull
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazingly prompt delivery
Good, clean low-priced paperback, arrived in well-padded bag, even before Amazon notified me of its despatch, before even minimum arrival time. Excellent service! Read more
Published on 15 Aug 2010 by D. A. JOHN WASE
2.0 out of 5 stars you will love the Authours voice or you will find him wimpish
This book has decent descriptive language of the railroad from Boston to Patagonia. It gets 1 star for that. Read more
Published on 17 Mar 2009 by B. J. Crossley
4.0 out of 5 stars "The journey, not the arrival, matters; the voyage, not the landing."
In 1979, Paul Theroux departed from his childhood home in Medford, Massachusetts, and began his train journey from the East Coast of the United States to Patagonia, on the southern... Read more
Published on 22 Aug 2008 by Mary Whipple
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