- Also check our best rated Travel Book reviews
Ghost Train to the Eastern Star: On the tracks of 'The Great Railway Bazaar' Paperback – 28 May 2009
|New from||Used from|
- Choose from over 13,000 locations across the UK
- Prime members get unlimited deliveries at no additional cost
- Find your preferred location and add it to your address book
- Dispatch to this address when you check out
Frequently bought together
Customers who bought this item also bought
Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
'Funny, informative, lyrical. Theroux is a fabulously good writer. The brilliance lies in his ability to create a broad sweep of many countries' Guardian 'A dazzler, giving us the highs and lows of his journey and tenderness and acerbic humour ... fellow-travelling weirdoes, amateur taxi drivers, bar-girls and long-suffering locals are brought vividly to life' Spectator 'Relaxed, curious, confident, surprisingly tender. Theroux's writing has an immediate, vivid and cursory quality that gives it a collective strength' Sunday Times
About the Author
Paul Theroux has written many works of fiction and travel writing, including the modern classics The Great Railway Bazaar, The Old Patagonian Express, My Secret History and The Mosquito Coast. Paul Theroux divides his time between Cape Cod and the Hawaiian islands.
What other items do customers buy after viewing this item?
Top customer reviews
Although this is the follow up to the hugely enjoyable, “The Great Railway Bazaar” you certainly don’t need to have read it in order to get the benefit of this book, but I highly recommend the predecessor all the same. Theroux took this journey back in 2006 into 2007, in a bid to repeat the journey he first took 33 years before. He is unable to trace his footsteps exactly, due to the Iranian government refusing to grant him a visa, and he also avoids the likes of Afghanistan and Pakistan this time round too, for obvious political reasons. Instead he ends up in places like Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, with some incredibly funny results.
Theroux sets out many of his philosophies early on, claiming, “Luxury is the enemy of observation, a costly indulgence that induces such a good feeling that you notice nothing. Luxury spoils and infantilizes you and prevents you from knowing the world. That is its purpose, the reason why luxury cruises and great hotels are full of fatheads who, when they express an opinion, seem as though they are from another planet.”
He encapsulates the murky desperation of Romania, “On the way, we had passed many casinos. They were the only splash of colour in the brown city, along with smoky bars and massage parlours. It was a city of sullen, desperate vice. The driver gave me a copy of ‘What’s On In Bucharest’. This guide offered tips on how to find sex. Avoid pimps, it said; you will probably get robbed.” He illustrates the madness of Turkmenistan, which was run at the time by Saparmyrat Niyazov, who Theroux describes as “One of the wealthiest and most powerful lunatics on earth.” Though as one optimistic local explains it wasn't all bad as, “Natural gas for heating is free. Electricity is free. Petrol is three cents a gallon. I can fill the tank of this car for fifty cents.”
He spends much time travelling through various parts of India, which stirs up mixed emotions for him, his love and respect for their highly dependable rail system is weighed up against some of his feelings for the huge cities, “The longer I stayed in Bangalore, the less I liked it. Many of the Indians I met there wanted me to be dazzled by the changes, but I was more horrified than awed. What went under the name of business in Bangalore was really a form of buccaneering, all the pirates wearing dark suits and carrying mobile phones instead of cutlasses. The place had not evolved; it had been crudely transformed-less city planning than the urban equivalent of botched cosmetic surgery.”
Curmudgeon, political, honest, insightful and often irreverent, are just some of the descriptions you could apply to Theroux’s style of prose and commentary. Dull is certainly not one of them, he writes with an assured confidence and ease that makes for a lovely and often funny experience. He always fills us in with some revealing and relevant background to places, without drowning us in information, ensuring that we can relate in some way. Very often what elevates Theroux’s writing is his honesty and openness, like his thoughts at being buttonholed by some eccentric man in Baku, “I hate being read to. I hate the pauses. I hate the stammers and mispronunciations. Most of all I hate the slowness of it. I can read quickly and efficiently, and cannot stand someone taking charge and denying me the pleasure of reading the damned thing myself.”
Theroux often adopts a joking, but I’m not joking tone, “From these few hours in France I could conclude that French waiters are friendly and informative, French food is delicious, French taxi drivers have a sense of humour, and Paris is rainy. In other words, generalize on the basis of one afternoon’s experience. This is what travel writers do: reach conclusions on the basis of slender evidence.”
He certainly sells Istanbul well, describing a whole variety of moments ranging from meeting a Ukrainian prostitute in a bar, to getting some emergency dental work done, by a charismatic dentist, as well as meeting Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk. He meets up with quite a number of authors, the other highlights include meeting up with Arthur C. Clarke in Sri Lanka. His joyful encounters with Haruki Murakami are particularly well crafted and really give us a flavour for the mysterious and reclusive author, as they wander the neon drenched streets of Tokyo together and then go traveling further afield, to quieter regions outside the megalopolis. His own books also get attention, when he nicely describes the time when he finds himself sitting across from an English backpacker reading one of his novels in Thailand. There is also a funny moment when he comes across a bootlegged version of one of his books in Phnom Penh and falls into an interesting conversation with the guy selling it.
This travelogue is absolutely packed with beautifully preserved moments in time, some more of the highlights include, the genuinely heartfelt encounter with an older Burmese rickshaw driver, his smoking a joint with two random men sharing his room on a train in Vietnam. There are plenty of dark moments too, facts such as, “A heavier tonnage of bombs had been dropped on North Vietnam than fell on Germany and Japan together in the entire Second World War.” Or his visits to places of torture and death in Cambodia, and his journey along the Trans-Siberian, where he stops off at the notorious Perm 36 facility, where his guide insists that people could be imprisoned for ten years, for such trivial crimes as missing three days of work.
This was an absolute pleasure to read and it reminded me why Theroux remains one of my favourite travel writers. He has the ability to consistently capture the sights and sounds with a crisp, cinematic quality. His distinctive voice manages to retain the perfect balance of authority and restraint, a voice that is not scared to question the contradictions and pretensions he encounters, and his sound research ensures that you are always going to learn something along the way too. Because he has been plying his trade for so long, in many ways Theroux bridges the gap between the previous generation of great travel writers, likes Kapuscinski and Lewis to the modern equivalents working today, like Gill and to a lesser extent Bryson. This is a wonderful account of a truly epic journey.
Theroux generally in this book is as competent, lively and observant as ever, making the book excellent reading for fans of his work. That he reveals more about the circumstances in which he wrote his first great book and the vagaries of his life only add to this. However, there are some flaws also. Theroux gets somewhat too ponderous about being old and the consequences of this, so the endless ruminations on the strength of old people can get on one's nerves, and it also seems to have led to an entirely baseless playing up of the value of Buddhist theology. Aside from that, there are also more and more significant errors than usual. Stalin did not kill 40 million people; Putin was never leader of the KGB (in fact he had a fairly unimportant job); Hitler was not born in Linz, but in Braunau am Inn; and so on. He also seems to have nothing good to say about Europe any more, and his persistently negative tone about it, even Paris, contrasts oddly with his much more upbeat descriptions of much poorer countries like Sri Lanka and Vietnam.
Nonetheless, the book is just as much a pleasurable classic of travel writing as most of Theroux's other masterpieces. Particularly notable is the interview with the late Sir Arthur C. Clarke, just before he died, which gives an interesting and melancholy insight into the difficult life of that famous writer. Also interesting are his trips through Central Asia, a part of the world rarely visited even by travel writers and which is highly underrepresented in world media, despite its increasing strategic importance relative to places like Iran, Afghanistan, Russia and Pakistan. On the whole, I recommend this book to fans of travel writing, if one is willing to take some of his grumpiness with a pinch of salt.
Paul Theroux has written a series of wonderful travel books; here he retraces a journey made thirty-three years previously and records the changes that have taken place. It is a book about the way the world has changed for better and for worse. The young writer worrying about his marriage has become a happier and more content traveller who finds friendship and something of interest wherever he goes. As he ventures through Asia he looks up other distinguished writers, visits sites of sentimental interest and brings to life scenes which affect him whether it is the sight of child prostitues or relentless sprawling cities. Yet his writing also is a celebration of the magic of train travel by a writer who never becomes rushed and is always intrigued by the men and women who share his compartment.
Would you like to see more reviews about this item?
Most recent customer reviews
“Delay and dirt are the realities...The Great Railway Bazaar: By Train Through Asia (Penguin Modern Classics)Read more
Look for similar items by category