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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Old Patagonian Express
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...
Published on 15 Dec 2006 by Demob Happy

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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Reasons Not To Travel
As other reviewers have pointed out, this is travel writing minus the romance, minus the slight exaggerations, minus... the drama?

I should be thankful for Theroux's honesty, but I guess I wanted that sense of the magical, exotic and adventurous that a reader gets from Bruce Chatwin, or at least the laughs you get with Bill Bryson. There are truly funny parts...
Published on 12 July 2006 by Jonathan Gallant


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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Old Patagonian Express, 15 Dec 2006
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
By 
Benoy N. Shah "benoyshah" (London) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
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
By 
J. Wrighton (London) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
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
4.0 out of 5 stars "The journey, not the arrival, matters; the voyage, not the landing.", 22 Jun 2006
By 
Mary Whipple (New England) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (TOP 100 REVIEWER)   
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. As Theroux takes notes on his meetings with Borges, he becomes Borges's Boswell.

More an observer than a participant, Theroux has an unfortunate air of superiority about what he sees and hears. Sparing little sympathy for American and German tourists, he rarely gets excited about his surroundings, expressing genuine emotion only when he talks with three boys, ages ten to twelve, who live in a doorway and scavenge for food because their rural families have abandoned them. Theroux's self-congratulatory attitude gets a bit wearisome, but the picture of Central and South America, thirty years ago, and the section with Borges are unparalleled. With beautiful, carefully observed prose and a great ear for dialogue, Theroux's Patagonia Express is a landmark travel memoir. Mary Whipple
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Reasons Not To Travel, 12 July 2006
By 
As other reviewers have pointed out, this is travel writing minus the romance, minus the slight exaggerations, minus... the drama?

I should be thankful for Theroux's honesty, but I guess I wanted that sense of the magical, exotic and adventurous that a reader gets from Bruce Chatwin, or at least the laughs you get with Bill Bryson. There are truly funny parts and characters in this book along with some exciting passages, some colourful local folk lore and some evocative descriptions of the scenery. But Theroux seems so constantly glum about the whole process, one does wonder why he persists on these horrible, festering trains and he doesn't just take the bus/plane like everyone else who can afford it. My abiding memory of this book is an image of the author sitting on an uncomfortable seat, trying to read one or another book and smoking his pipe... I'd hate to be in his carriage.

I wouldn't want to put anyone off reading this book, though. It is superb writing and I will certainly be reading some of his other titles, but I find it hard to imagine that this will inspire anyone to pack their suitcase and aim for Tierra Del Fuego.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "The journey, not the arrival, matters; the voyage, not the landing.", 22 Aug 2008
By 
Mary Whipple (New England) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (TOP 100 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Old Patagonian Express: By Train Through the Americas (Penguin Modern Classics) (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 to life his trip through the northern and southern hemispheres, 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, where 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. As Theroux takes notes on his meetings with Borges, he becomes Borges's Boswell.

More an observer than a participant, Theroux has an unfortunate air of superiority about what he sees and hears. Sparing little sympathy for American and German tourists, he rarely gets excited about his surroundings, expressing genuine emotion only when he talks with three boys, ages ten to twelve, who live in a doorway and scavenge for food because their rural families have abandoned them. Theroux's self-congratulatory attitude gets a bit wearisome, but the picture of Central and South America, thirty years ago, and the section with Borges are unparalleled. With beautiful, carefully observed prose and a great ear for dialogue, Theroux's Patagonian Express is a landmark travel memoir. Mary Whipple

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Expertly Honest, 1 Mar 2012
By 
M. S. Harris (Barnard Castle, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
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. Can anyone really say that they have had a perfect trip, lacking of all of the irksome and intruding elements that Theroux encounters during his track-rattling journey to Patagonia? There's a place for the Bill Brysons of this world- funny- and I like him also but for a different purpose, but to get the true feel of travel Theroux evokes it perfectly. Most of it is interesting yet tiresome, evocative but critical; to paraphrase Alain de Botton, you can travel to escape but you cannot escape yourself. I've always adored Paul Theroux's writing be it fiction or non- ("Hotel Honolulu" is a dream of a novel) but for the armchair traveller looking for the full experience of being bothered to get up and go, this gives you the fascinating yet weary warts-and-all experience of making the effort. 5 stars for a book I loved twelve years ago, and a book I've loved all over again. An added bonus (rather like the extra features on a DVD if you bother with film) is the wonderful meeting with Borges. In the infamous tower, Theroux would be at the top with Chatwin in the Travel section!
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Old Fart rides train, 3 Jan 2008
By 
R. Lawhead - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
I began reading this book after having thoroughly enjoyed "Dark Star" by the author. "Dark Star" swept me into its narrative, educated me and gave me a real sense of Africa's contradictory nature. It was a wonderful book! However, Theroux came across as an arrogant, ignorant old man who's views of the landscape outside his train car and his opinions of the people inside had no more depth than the narrow route of the train tracks upon which he travelled. If I had wanted a narration of how grumpy and irritable everyone and everything made him I could have listened to my father-in-law! I commend Theroux for learning Spanish but he learned little else and had nothing much to share with his readers. I was looking for some insight into the people and countries but all I got was complaining. Theroux came across as a real old crank in this book. I was very disappointed.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Old Patagonian Express, 21 Sep 2007
By 
E. K. Measures "yearning for erudition" (Surrey, England) - See all my reviews
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I thoroughly enjoyed reading this whilst I was travelling through South America (in the opposite direction to Theroux). It even motivated me to search out those of the trains that he travelled on, that were still in service. I found his uncompromising, often critical view of others and himself, a refreshing change from the political correctness that we are accustomised to today. I thought his observations acute and I'm looking forward to reading more of his work.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sheer descriptive brilliance, 17 Jan 1999
By A Customer
This book is more about the way Theroux travels rather than the day to day mechanics of travelling. He displays a sharp insight into everything he sees and everyone he meets, and we miss nothing on the way with his vivid descriptive prose and portrayal. Some countries he barely dallies in, but by the end of the book you feel you've been there with him. The feel of going somewhere, of travelling, is precisely conveyed. Wonderful.
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