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The Great Railway Bazaar: By Train Through Asia Paperback – June 1, 2006
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About the Author
- Item Weight : 12.8 ounces
- ISBN-13 : 978-0618658947
- Paperback : 352 pages
- Product dimensions : 5.5 x 0.89 x 8.25 inches
- Publisher : Mariner Books; Reprint edition (June 1, 2006)
- Language: : English
- ASIN : 0618658947
- Best Sellers Rank: #123,371 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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After four months "on the road" - mainly by rail - he returned, rejoined his family and two years later published his first travel book -The Great Railway Bazaar. It was an instant success; and in the ensuing 40 odd years Paul Theroux novelist, teacher, man of letters and social critic has not only become the dean of travel writers with more than 10 books on travel to his credit but an established novelist, essayist and short story writer as well a published author of more than 35 books of non-travel books in his name.
I read Bazaar when it was first published and became a Theroux fan on the spot; and since then I have read and cheered every one of its "issue"; but I have never written any comments on Bazaar. However, having just finished his last and perhaps his final travel book (The Last Train From Zona Verde,) I think it's time to say something about Bazaar which I have read again for this purpose.
Bazaar starts from London in 1972 with a rail trip to Paris where Theroux boards the "Direct-Orient-Express" which is not to be confused with Agatha Christy's or Alfred Hitchcock's luxury train. There's only one sleeping car for Istanbul via Milan, Venice and Belgrade. And you wouldn't want any of your family to have to travel on it. There's no dining car. You are pretty much on your own for a couple of days, But Istanbul is, as always, engaging. Then it's the "Express" across Turkey to the border of Iran, another "Express" to Teheran, a flight to Peshawar and then the Khyber Pass Local and the Frontier Mail to Mumbai (then Bombay), Indian trains of the mid 1970s too numerous to mention here - Bombay, Simla, New Delhi, Calcutta. A train to Ceylon (before it was Sri Lanka). A flight to Burma (when it was still Burma). Then The Mandalay express. Up country through Vietnam (where the war was still winding down) . A flight to Japan. Tokyo. Kyoto. The fast Japanese trains. And then - by contrast - a voyage ("storm tossed" is the proper phrase for it) to the Eastern Terminus of the Trans Siberian "Express" in the USSR and ten days across Siberia in late December. (Can you imagine ten days on a train in a small compartment with another occupant and never a bath? You really have to love trains!) And, finally, three days after Christmas he's home
It was a time when travel in most of the countries he visited was for the hardy and adventurous. There was no internet, no GPS,
no email, no iPhone. You used the telegraph system such as it was to communicate with home. Credit cards were generally a thing of the future so you carried your money in a money belt and used bank drafts (when available) for your cash. The modern preventatives or analgesics for Delhi Belly, its children and cousins, were in the future. And personal cleanliness while traveling was obviously a luxury if it could be accommodated at all.
Curiously Theroux has never to my memory commented on any of these things. Yes, I have read in some of his books where he has been ill, but we never read of the ordinary vicissitudes of travel -- problems which the rest of us have when we just go to New York. Nor do we nor have we read about his travel plans. Is it all catch-as-catch-can? What was the preparation for the trip? (Obviously there was and had been some preparation because he frequently writes about giving lectures or teaching, and there needs to be some advance work for this.) And where does he find all the books he talks about reading as he goes? They're great books for the time but none that I would expect to find in your corner book store.
Now back to Bazaar . As I said I was hooked the first time I read it. And this time it was even better because using Google Earth and Google Maps one can get a pretty good picture of where he is, how he was traveling and what he was seeing. So this is Theroux in his first book, already at the top of his game and a book to spend an evening of two with now in 2013 just as it was when I read in forty years ago. And I guarantee you will like it too
The author may not be able to be called a "misanthrope" in the strict definition of the word, but he comes close. So this is our traveling companion in the otherwise "great railway bazaar," and there is no letup in the way that he sees and experiences life.
Top reviews from other countries
Theroux train hopped for many years across Europe, Asia and Africa - he'd always thought of travel books as boring until he wrote this one. He quotes a handful of authors who he believes live up to this as "oddities" within the genre.
Theroux does and excellent job of zooming into the interactions and bonds he built with fellow travellers and locals along the way.
Around half way through the book I started to find it difficult to read - the book doesn't read like a story, with any kind of plot to make you anticipate what might happen next. The book reads like lots of mini descriptive snippets of scenarios, experiences and memories.
I needed/wanted a bit of a story, or more insight in Theroux as the key character - the thread running throughout the book.
The book will certainly leave vivid images in your mind since the author is skilled at using very vivid description to convey his observations but the lack of any threads made it hard enjoy.
He has a writing style which reads like a novel. The people he meets are presented as caricatures which works well to draw a quick picture of the individuals. The problem with this is that they are all very difficult to relate to as PT seems to emphasise extreme characteristics and other elements he dislikes about people.
PT comes across as someone not really enjoying his travelling although the level of detail in the book is superb. Also the experience of travel is easy to imagine due to the clever writing.
I have found this book difficult to read but clearly lot of people do love it.