In 1975, Paul Theroux published a bestselling travel memoir, The Great Railway Bazaar, about a train trip from Europe to Asia. In the years since he has become one of the world’s most successful and best known travel writers. He recently published a new book, Ghost Train to the Eastern Star, in which he retraces much of his first route to Asia by train. He spoke with USA Today about the trip and his writing.
The most striking change you saw?
Without question, Vietnam. From a country that was a muddy, flattened, bloody, beleaguered hell hole … to the country it is today: flourishing, forward-looking and, almost incredibly, forgiving.
How tempted were you to try to retrace your 1973 route through Afghanistan?
After I read about the numerous abductions and killings of Western wanderers like myself in Afghanistan, it was an easy decision to detour through Georgia, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan — some great train rides in those countries. And lately they have been in the news, so I think I was lucky in my timing.
Do you agree with The Guardian‘s description of you as “the Indiana Jones of American literature”?
Very nice. I’m flattered. But I have only been shot at three times: twice in Africa, once in the Philippines. I have been bitten by snakes, and once by bats in an outhouse one night in Central Africa. I think Indy can top those.
Any advice to travelers?
If you’re planning to write something about your travels, go alone, go overland, go cheap, and leave all electronics behind. To all travelers, I urge patience.