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Ghost Train to the Eastern Star: On the Tracks of the Great Railway Bazaar Hardcover – August 18, 2008

4.2 out of 5 stars 188 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Amazon Best of the Month, August 2008: Way back in the dark pre-Internet, limited-air-travel world of 1975, the way to get from Europe to Asia was by train. A young and ambitious writer named Paul Theroux made his literary mark by taking the 28,000-mile intercontinental journey via rail from London to Tokyo and back home again. His book, The Great Railway Bazaar, became a travel-lit classic. Thirty years later, an older, wiser, and even less sanguine Theroux decided to retrace his steps. The result is Ghost Train to the Eastern Star, a fascinating account of the places you vaguely knew existed (Tbilisi), probably won't ever go to (Bangalore), but definitely should know something about (Mandalay). Get on board Theroux's fast-moving travelogue, which features some of the most astute commentary on our distorted notions of time, space, and each other in the age of jet speed, broadband connections, and cultural extinction. --Lauren Nemroff

From Bookmarks Magazine

Paul Theroux has polarized critics with his latest travelogue. His sense of adventure, candid descriptions, and evocative prose notwithstanding, some critics took issue with the unbridled narcissism suffusing the narrative. Others lavished praise on the best-selling author, and the Los Angeles Times, summarizing the two sides neatly, called Theroux “a compelling writer who is essentially unlikable.” Despite this opinion and complaints of unimaginative generalizations and a tendency towards repetition, Theroux immerses readers in the alleys and shadowy corners of squalid cities that many are unlikely to see for themselves. He is a close observer of the unfamiliar and the strange while charting the simultaneous evolution and degeneration of the world itself. “Theroux’s real work is not about travel,” reveals the Rocky Mountain News, “it’s about the progress of the soul.”
Copyright 2008 Bookmarks Publishing LLC

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin; First Edition edition (August 18, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1615582967
  • ISBN-13: 978-1615582969
  • ASIN: 0618418873
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.4 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (188 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #145,990 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Michael H. Frederick on August 19, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I assume everyone reading this is familiar with Theroux's latest premise, to retrace the trail he took over thirty years ago when he wrote "The Great Railway Bazaar."

His latest is classic Theroux - observant, infinitely inquisitive (almost nosy), insatiably curious. Few can afford the time, money or emotional strain it would take to complete a journey like this. Consequently, it's wonderful to have a traveler (the author's familiar reference to himself) of this caliber to do it for us. Mostly by land from London, through Eastern Europe, the Subcontinent, Southeast Asia, Japan and home across Russia. I, for one, don't know how he manages to leave his loving wife for that long.

Some have called the author a misanthrope. I don't think that at all. One particular act, which I won't spoil by revealing, distinguishes the man from your average humanity-hater. I appreciated how he usually searched out the oldest rickshaw-wallahs and taxi drivers, people his age who haven't been as fortunate.

I take his observations of annoying people as part of the landscape of a trip of this magnitude. It was inevitable that he'd come across slovenly, boorish, clueless tourists that deservedly reaped the wrath of his rapier wit. I particularly enjoy Theroux's slicing and dicing of holier-than-thou missionaries. When he begins a description of someone he runs into with sly, almost vicious adjectives, look out. You know the game is about to begin.

I share a lot of the author's opinions, especially when he compares lawyers to prostitutes and expresses nothing but disdain for weak-handed politicians and substance-less celebrities.
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Format: Hardcover
Paul Theroux delivers in Ghost Train to the Eastern Star what the Theroux fan expects: entertaining travelogue laced with acerbic wit, cultural context and social commentary. And, it maintains Theroux's high literary standard; keep a dictionary by your side. The "plot," if one could call it that, is to retrace his steps of 30 years before, when he wrote The Great Railway Bizarre. But, just as you can't really go home again, you can't really go away again, at least on the same path. Fortunately, this obvious point is not a main focus of Ghost Train. Theroux's result this time is closer in style and content to his Dark Star Safari than to any of his other travel works. Coincidentally, the same device of going away again to a place he'd been 30 years before was employed in Dark Star Safari. However, his commentary for Ghost Train is a bit thinner, since it does not benefit from a prolonged earlier stay as he had in Africa. Readers of his Elephanta Suite will benefit from following a subplot: finding the inspirations for the three Elephanta Suite novellas in the Indian portion of his travels.

Small portions of Ghost Train are a bit trite: a place is developed or more populous, so it is not as nice as in the good old days; another place is still great (for the traveler) because it hasn't been modernized. Some of Theroux's favorite villain types appear as in earlier works: the shallow young backpacker, the boorish inconsiderate traveler, the overconfident ignoramus; on the political level the villains include dictators, Chinese government exploitation of third world countries, and soulless bureaucrats.
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Format: Hardcover
Paul Theroux published his classic travel book the Great Railway Bazaar in 1975. He had traveled by train across Europe and Asia in 1973. That book gave notice that Theroux was a literary force. The success of that book made Theroux the comfortable writer that we have known ever since.

This new book re-traces that epic adventure. Theroux is older, wiser, more affluent but still like a small boy in many ways. His observations regarding what is different now and what has stayed the same are thorough and entertaining. His interactions with the people he meets along the way are little treasures.

As Theroux passes from place to place we get a sense of the world that informs us at the deepest level. The devastation the tsunami brought to Sri Lanka becomes real to us. Cambodia is truly a country of ghosts.Vietnam is vibrant and youthful. Laos is primitive. Singapore a repressive zombie state. The country formerly known as Burma is simply repressive but Theroux is delighted to meet people there who remember him from his first time through.

He tracks down his peers, writers like Orhan Pamuk in Turkey, Arthur C. Clarke in Sri Lanka, Haruki Murakami and Pico Iyer in Japan. And he sees people reading his books. He watches with voyeuristic delight as a fellow passenger peruses "The Mosquito Coast." He can't resist informing this young female backpacker that I WROTE THAT.

An amazing adventure - Theroux is at the top of his game here. He devotes only a half page to China. This omission is by design. Theroux doesn't conceal his feelings or his opinions.
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