Paul Theroux's Ghost Train to the Eastern Star is a journey from London to Asia by train.
Winner of the Stanford Dolman Lifetime Contribution to Travel Writing Award 2020
Thirty years ago Paul Theroux left London and travelled across Asia and back again by train. His account of the journey - The Great Railway Bazaar - was a landmark book and made his name as the foremost travel writer of his generation. Now Theroux makes the trip all over again. Through Eastern Europe, India and Asia to discover the changes that have swept the continents, and also to learn what an old man will make of a young man's journey. Ghost Train to the Eastern Star is a brilliant chronicle of change and an exploration of how travel is 'the saddest of pleasures'.
'A dazzler, giving us the highs and lows of his journey and tenderness and acerbic humour . . . fellow-travelling weirdoes, amateur taxi drivers, bar-girls and long-suffering locals are brought vividly to life' Spectator
'Fans of Theroux are not likely to be disappointed. Theroux has great descriptive skill . . . the world is slightly less unknown by virtue of reading the book' Sunday Telegraph
'Relaxed, curious, confident, surprisingly tender. Theroux's writing has an immediate, vivid and cursory quality that gives it a collective strength' Sunday Times
'A brilliant eye, readable and vivid. Theroux has still got it' Observer
'Fascinating, a joy to read' Tatler
Paul Theroux's books include Dark Star Safari, Ghost Train to the Eastern Star, Riding the Iron Rooster, The Great Railway Bazaar, The Elephanta Suite, A Dead Hand, The Tao of Travel and The Lower River. The Mosquito Coast and Dr Slaughter have both been made into successful films. Paul Theroux divides his time between Cape Cod and the Hawaiian islands.
Acclaimed travel writer and novelist Theroux hasn't lost his affection for trains, but his view of the scenery outside has darkened in his latest odyssey. Reprising the itinerary of his 1973 The Great Railway Bazaar (with a detour around Iran and Afghanistan into the Central Asian republics), Theroux takes a contrarian stance toward the transformation of Asia over the intervening decades. The persistence of familiar, authentic, rural decrepitude usually heartens him, while the teeming modernity of great cities the computer-and-oxcart madhouses of Mumbai and Bangalore, the neurotic orderliness of Singapore, the soullessness of Tokyo appalls. The book is often an elegy for fixity in a globalizing age when everyone is a traveler anxious to get to America and "the world is deteriorating and shrinking to a ball of bungled desolation." Fortunately, Theroux is too rapt an observer of his surroundings and himself to wallow long in reaction or nostalgia; readers will find his usual wonderfully evocative landscapes and piquant character sketches (and, everywhere, prostitutes soliciting him most stylishly in Hanoi, where they ride up on motorcycles crying, "You come! Boom-boom!"). No matter where his journey takes him, Theroux always sends back dazzling post cards.
I enjoyed the Great Railway Bazaar and initially thought this book would turn out to be a cynical money-spinner. In short: i was wrong. There are few literary joys more dear to me than setting out from St Pancras station in the company of Paul Theroux.
The knowledge, wit and insight that i have come to expect from him are welcome companions indeed on such a long journey. As i'm approaching 10 years of travel myself his ruminations and reminiscences on his previous journey struck a particular chord with me. The humour is plentiful too, both wicked and heart-warming.
The original book "The Great Railway Bazaar" is a fantastic journey taken by a man in his prime and full of enthusiasm and wonderment. How disappointing then to read this 30 year sequel from a tired middle aged man trying to rediscover his original adventure. Indeed one is left wondering if this sequel "Ghost Train To The Eastern Bazaar" is not just a money spinning excuse to cash in on his earlier work. Before we even set off we get mournful tales of his marriage problems from 30 years previously. Compared to his other train travel books this is definitely plodding and laborious. With so many references to his travel writing friends you wonder if it is an excuse to pat them all on the back and give them free publicity. Indeed chapter 30 is page after page of name dropping and discussions of other authors' works I was obliged to skip read several pages. This is not why I settle down to read Paul Theroux frankly.
No homeless people in Sapporo? I saw far more homeless people there in Ueno Park than I have seen in London.