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Stranger on a Train: Daydreaming and Smoking Around America with Interruptions Hardcover – October 4, 2002


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; 1st edition (October 4, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312283520
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312283520
  • Product Dimensions: 4.8 x 1.1 x 10.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,814,993 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

"I am not a travel writer in any reasonable sense of the word," Diski confesses. "I do not feel compelled to bring the world to people, or meet interesting characters, or enlarge my circle of acquaintance. I just want to drift in the actual landscape of my destination." Despite the disclaimer, the British novelist (Only Human) does all of the above in this eloquent exploration of the psyche America's and her own. The work is divided into two parts. Journey One begins aboard a transatlantic cargo ship where Diski is among a handful of passengers en route to Savannah, Ga. From there, she takes Amtrak to Arizona. Journey Two takes place a year later as Diski circumnavigates the U.S. from New York's Penn Station to Portland, Ore., and back, stopping in the suburbs of Albuquerque to stay in the backyard trailer of a friend from the first sojourn. As in the Hitchcock thriller of (almost) the same title, strangers whom Diski befriends in the smoking sections, or "sin bins," of the trains divulge the details of their lives; Diski, however, plays it close to the vest, sharing intimacies with readers only about her difficult childhood, struggles with substance abuse and more. "I became remarkably unhappy at having been chosen to survive," she recollects after her first trip, comparing the experience of saying goodbye to her travel mates to leaving the psych ward of England's Lady Chichester Hospital at age 14. As she did in Skating to Antarctica: A Journey to the End of the World (1998), Diski again blurs the borders between traditional travelogue and memoir to create a transcendent work.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

English novelist Diski (Only Human) mixes memoir and travelog in a sharp, vivid, but ultimately disappointing narrative written around two train journeys, one across the southern United States and the other around its perimeter. She begins each journey with seeming enthusiasm, but before long, she starts feeling that she has opened herself up too much to strangers. She then panics and withdraws, needing to hide away in her tiny cabin on the train. A short visit to the home of a woman she meets on the first journey ends in paranoid terror when Diski becomes convinced that the family won't let her leave. Intermittently, she flashes back to other times in her life, including an unhappy childhood and several episodes of severe depression. The places she visits (Phoenix, Chicago, Jacksonville) are entirely incidental to the story, the scenery is best seen through a train window, if at all, and the people she meets are unremarkable. In the end, Diski seems happiest when exiled to a dingy smoking car puffing desperately on a cigarette, heading home. Not a priority purchase. Linda M. Kaufmann, Massachusetts Coll. of Liberal Arts Lib., North Adams
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Stephen E. Stratton on July 1, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I enjoyed Diski's self revelations and conversations with Americans on her cross country train trips. Yes, she clearly needs her cigarettes, and yes, she discusses what are clearly uncomfortable settings of her own mental health, but people, her writing is fantastic, and she creates a definite view of what train travel in the US is like these days. The reviewer that wonders what happened in certain legs of the journey needs to realize that yes, one does sleep on the train and certain geography is doomed to be missed in such a trip. THis book is less about the external geography and more about the internal geography the authors sees with her traveling compatriots across America. A wonderful look at Americans and at an author examining herself while traveling.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
... of considerable talent and depth. Ms. Diski also writes regularly for the London Review of Books—and saves that august but sometimes dull publication from complete dryness. She has a very interesting personal background that allows her to both identify with some of her more unlikely fellow-travellers — and smokers — and to observe them at the same time. A trip around the States - literally - she circles the country, insofar as Amtrack will now allow, and we are privy to all that is interesting about the people and the journey without having to go!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By J. Alyce on September 23, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A militant solitaire with a quirky passion for traveling in circles (literally) being "entertained" by strangers as if they were coin-operated. Some great quotes in this book about Alone Time. Ended without an end, however...like a train just seemed to run out of steam.
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By John the Reader on September 9, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I was a little reluctant to order and read this book, fearing that it might be less of a travel and train account, and instead be just a touch “Chick-lit”. On reflection it so proves, or at least the book shows that the author has attitudes and feelings towards the people she met, travelled and stayed with – most of whom I think the rest of us would have carefully avoided – that reflect to her credit as a member of the more caring and nurturing gender.

There is perhaps, as another reviewer notes, rather too much on the author’s many periods in mental-care hospitals, and the recounting of these multiple stays seemed almost nostalgic as though they proved strangely more enjoyable, or at least more comfortable for her, than the train journeys in this book.

Given the state of Amtrak these days this may well be true of course.

As a former smoker (or ‘gasper’) I can empathize with the author’s difficulties with finding somewhere in America where she could still smoke, and I recognize the importance that smoking has in giving pleasure and comfort. It is those malodorous smoking cages that the author meets the people she writes about as the puff and chat she notes the details of their lives and offers us each of those ‘stories’.

Not the book I wanted, but overall an interesting perspective on America and travel.
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Format: Paperback
Lovely. Essentially a catalog of every strange person Diski encountered on Amtrak (and I can tell you, there are so many!), with her own reflections woven in. It's also nice to read about America from a foreigner's perspective.

It's a bit slow to get started, and for some reason her judgments of people were rubbing me the wrong way to begin with. But the book hits its stride once she's on the first train.

Highly recommended for introverts. Not at all recommended for extroverts or people who plan their trips carefully, or people who want history and facts and things in their travel books. This is just about people, and their strange tales and foibles. Oh, and smoking. If you were once a smoker and have quit, this may be a dangerous read--it made me want to smoke, and I've never really had the habit.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Terri Murphy-Naughton on August 30, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a wonderful author. Her books are entertaining, valuable and insightful. Highly recommended.

This book in particular gives one the pleasure of a train trip without suffering through Amtrak delays. A must-read to train travel fanciers.
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