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

4.2 out of 5 stars 45 customer reviews

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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: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (45 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 985,421 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description

Review

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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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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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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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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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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Format: Paperback
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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