One on one with Paul Theroux

Travel Perspectives, Travel Writers & Books — By on July 3, 2009 at 7:20 am

Paul Theroux has, over the years, provided us with some wonderful literary accounts of his global travels. His latest venture, Ghost Train to the Eastern Star, actually retraces a trip from Europe to Asia that he wrote about in his 1975 book, The Great Railway Bazaar. He talked about these journeys and other topics recently in an interview that he did with National Geographic Traveler. An excerpt:

In your latest book, Ghost Train to the Eastern Star, you retraced your 1973 Great Railway Bazaar journey. What changed between trips?

“Even a rickshaw wallah has a cell phone,” an Indian said to me. In 1973 I tried to make two phone calls in four and a half months—one, from Japan, succeeded, the other, from India, failed. Cheap watches and blue jeans were almost unknown in the wider world in 1973, but everyone has them now, in Americanized cultures. In 1973, China was undergoing the Cultural Revolution—the whole of China disrupted with mass hysteria—and now, of course, the Chinese manufacture most of our goods.

What’s stayed the same?

Undoubtedly village life in rural India—the pattern of harvest, or drought, debt, hunger, and the pieties of Hinduism. This in great contrast to parallel developments in information technology.

What surprised you?

The forgiveness in Vietnam. After we dropped over seven million tons of bombs, 13 million gallons of Agent Orange, and killed millions of their people, Americans are greeted politely, welcomed, urged to have some noodles. It’s a great lesson to anyone familiar with other wars and atrocities.

If you could retreat from the life you live now, what would you do—and where?

I have spent my whole life searching for the best place to live. I spend the summer on Cape Cod, where I spent my happiest childhood days. I spend the winter in happy Hawaii, bathed in marine sunlight. I make forays to the coast of Maine. These are sun-kissed days. Why retreat?

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1 Comment

  1. Daniel says:

    The thing about reading a book about Theroux is that you’ll learn nearly as much about Theroux (or the character of Theroux, travel writer) as you do about the place. Now that’s not necessarily a bad thing; however, I often find myself turned off by some of his cynicism. I have the same reaction when reading Bill Bryson; but he’s at the opposite end of the spectrum. Everything Bryson sees is “wonderful!”. I think if Bryson and Theroux had a child, I would find that he/she would write wonderful travel memoirs.

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