Sunday, September 14, 2008

Ghost Train To The Eastern Star

Today, I completed reading Paul Theroux’s Ghost Train to the Eastern Star. Last month, when I blogged about his classic book The Great Railway Bazaar I hadn’t known that he had a new book just published, which retraced his earlier journey of 33 years ago.

In Ghost Train, Paul travels by rail (mostly) from London all the way to Japan and back, over 28,000 miles in all, and writes about his trip.

If you listen to Theroux’s critics, they are quick to use words like caustic or acerbic or grouchy to describe his prose. But I find that such one-word descriptions are too reductive for someone with his abilities. Yes, at times he is all of those, but he is also extremely funny and compassionate and a great observer and summarizer of things and places.

I have always maintained that reading a book by James Michener (Alaska, Hawaii) is the equivalent of getting to spend 3 months there. Paul Theroux’s travel books have that same quality – you can ‘travel’ right in your living room with his books.

If you haven’t read anything by Paul Theroux, you have at least three good choices. The Great Railway Bazaar, Dark Star Safari (Africa) and his newly released Ghost Train to the Eastern Star (retracing his earlier GRB journey).

Start with the Ghost Train if you can. If the whole book seems too daunting given your other time constraints, get hold of the book anyway and read the chapters for just the countries that interest you. I can especially recommend Turkey (the intelligentsia he meets and Orhan Pamuk), India (his take on the recent IT boom and the widening economic gap), Burma (how things haven’t changed much in 30 years) and Japan (he writes about the manga craze and his discussions with two well-known authors – Haruki Murakami and Pico Iyer).

Just don’t let the critics rob you of the unique pleasure of reading his lucid prose.

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