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The Old Patagonian Express: By Train Through the Americas Paperback – November 7, 1989

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

PAUL THEROUX is the author of many highly acclaimed books. His novels include The Lower River and The Mosquito Coast, and his renowned travel books include Ghost Train to the Eastern Star and Dark Star Safari. He lives in Hawaii and Cape Cod.

From AudioFile

American novelist and travel writer Paul Theroux takes us on a fascinating journey through the Americas by rail. To the long tradition of such fare, he contributes considerable descriptive power, strong characterizations, humor and informed humanity--all of which William Hootkins communicates in an expressive, listener-friendly voice. There is much to interest anyone who wishes to glean insights from a keen mind and stout heart. Y.R. (c)AudioFile, Portland, Maine --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 404 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books; Reissue edition (November 7, 1989)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 039552105X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0395521052
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (63 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #150,659 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Paul Theroux's highly acclaimed novels include Blinding Light, Hotel Honolulu, My Other Life, Kowloon Tong, and The Mosquito Coast. His renowned travel books include Ghost Train to the Eastern Star, Dark Star Safari, Riding the Iron Rooster, The Great Railway Bazaar, The Old Patagonian Express, and The Happy Isles of Oceania. He lives in Hawaii and on Cape Cod.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

80 of 80 people found the following review helpful By Carl Gladish on February 9, 2006
Format: Paperback
A remark that one reads often about Paul Theroux is that he is grouchy, critical of the people he meets, and generally unpleasant. Some readers seem to suggest that this makes him a worse traveler, not being pure-of-heart or sufficiently open-minded. On the other hand, some others suggest he is worth reading as a travel writer precisely because he's not afraid to tell-it-like-it-is. I think it is likely that both of these ideas are wrong.

When Paul Theroux writes a travel book, he is not a journalist writing simply to produce a faithful depiction of the places he visits. He is not a social crusader writing in order educate the reader about the lives of the poor or to stimulate the reader to see the richness of life outside of North American. He certainly is not an egotist like Thomas Friedman who writes in order to put himself in a positive light. He is simply an intelligent man who has enough humility to try to write down what he has experienced without drawing too many clumsy conclusions or false symmetries. When he writes that he didn't like a certain person sleeping in his train compartment, he doesn't expect the reader to sympathize with either him or the unpleasant companion. I don't think he means to argue that his dislike has any special significance beyond the fact that it was part of the travel story that he is telling. I like the fact that when Theroux narrates an encounter with someone in his travels he doesn't smooth out the details to make the encounter unambiguously positive or negative. For example, when he describes meeting Jorge Borges, the Argentine writer, he clearly admires Borges' memory and sensitivity and yet he doesn't avoid commenting on Borges' stuttering and his clowning smile.
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Format: Paperback
In 1979, Paul Theroux departed from his childhood home in Medford, Massachusetts, and began his train journey from the East Coast of the United States to Patagonia, on the southern tip of Argentina. A seasoned traveler, fluent in Spanish, Theroux brings to life his trip through the northern and southern hemispheres, traveling without a schedule and observing his fellow passengers on the train and people at stops along the way.

In Texas he is astonished at the contrasts between Laredo on the Texas side of the Rio Grande and Nuevo Laredo across the border in Mexico, commenting on society and governments. Traveling through Mexico and Guatemala, he observes the poverty of the Indians and their lack of opportunities. In El Salvador he attends a soccer game and gets caught up in the melee and riots which follow it. In Costa Rica, the cleanest country he has visited, he finds himself stuck on the train with Mr. Thornberry, a New Hampshire tourist so boring that Theroux cannot wait to escape him--only to have Mr. Thornberry "save his life" by offering him a place to stay upon his arrival in Limon. In Panama he meets the "Zonians," from the Canal Zone, and in Cali, Colombia, he meets a married "priest" who cannot tell his devout mother in Belfast that he has "left" the church to marry and have children.

Throughout his trip, Theroux reads classics, particularly enjoying Boswell's Life of Dr. Johnson and Edgar Allen Poe's The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, both of which provide ironic reference points for his own journey. For literature lovers, the most fascinating section occurs in Buenos Aires, where Theroux spends many days visiting blind writer Jorge Luis Borges, who persuades Theroux to read to him.
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48 of 55 people found the following review helpful By Adriana Villanueva on June 2, 2000
Format: Paperback
As a venezuelan I thank god that there is no train to my country and that Paul Theroux didn't stop in Venezuela because almost everywhere that he went , including part of the U.S.A, he had the ability, the gift to find only the negative things. So you should ask me, then why did I give this book 4 stars, because its fun to read. Paul Theroux, a young writer in the seventies, one day decides to leave his wife and kids in their home in London, go back to his parents house in Massachussets and from there take a train to the Patagonia: the farthest south that he could go. Sounds fun for an adventurous man, but all the time, all the places he keeps bitching about everything: The people on the trains, the people in the cities, how he misses his family, what is he doing there, about the food, about the hotels. Well you name it, but in the middle of all this bitching you can almost find yourself in the forest, in the middle of a civil war, in the top of the mountain, meeting Borges, every day completely different from the other.Paul Theroux can be real obnoxious, but he sure can write.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Jeremy W. Forstadt on September 5, 2004
Format: Paperback
Paul Theroux, in his introduction to THE OLD PATAGONIAN EXPRESS, states that his wish was to make this "the ultimate book about getting there." As in his other train voyage narratives, this book is about the journey rather than the destination however, as usual, we manage to glimpse quite a lot of the country and people he encounters along the way. Theroux, as always, plays the curmudgeon and misanthrope throughout. This, of course, is the main reason I enjoy coming back to Theroux time and time again. Who needs to read another travelogue of fluffy descriptions of tourist destinations and restaurant reviews?

Theroux seeks "adventure" and he finds a fair amount of it in his train travels through the Americas. Although he speaks against the novelistic approach to travel writing, his own character consistently inserts itself into the story which in my opinion reads much like a novel in a positive way. Politically, the book is dated and we must expect that much has changed in Central and South America over the last 20 years. However, THE OLD PATAGONIAN EXPRESS remains a highly entertaining read and I recommend it heartily.

Jeremy W. Forstadt
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