The Great Railway Bazaar by Paul Theroux

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Full disclosure: I love trains. I’m a bit of a train geek and try to fit in a railway journey whenever I travel. So I was always going to be well disposed to a book about train journeys.

Paul Theroux’s book is an account of his travels by train in the mid-seventies. Each chapter is a different route, and together they form a sinuous path across Europe and Asia. Now, bad travel writing is tedious- who wants to read about someone else’s holiday?

But this is wonderful.

Theroux’s places are often just a brief, colourful description of its most vivid features and his people are eccentric characters who appear for only a single conversation. It’s not much like real life- it reads like a quirky indie film at times.

These are obviously his edited highlights. But it perfectly fits the mode of travel: this is what trains are like. The chance encounters, the flashes of scenery through a window, which all combine into a dense, detailed map of his travels.

Trains are perhaps the most effective way to grasp a new place: more grounded than plane, less insular than car and more pourous than a bus. Therefore they form the perfect conduit for Theroux’s worlds.

This book has inspired some serious wanderlust in me. Thank God for the 16-25 Railcard.

 

One thought on “The Great Railway Bazaar by Paul Theroux

  1. I always think that Paul Theroux is at his best when writing about the people he meets rather than the places he visited. Of his rail journeys, and The Great Railway Bazaar is certainly the best known, I think The Old Patagonian Express was his best by far.

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