Review: The Great Railway Bazaar, Paul Theroux

Rating: 0.5 out of 5

Let me say, to begin with, that there were parts to this book that I liked. These involved the select few times when the author bothered to engage with the people around him. This happened perhaps half a dozen times while in the rest of the book, the author was happy to accuse and malign people based on his thoughts alone.

When I reviewed the author’s retake of this first grand journey in ‘Ghost Train to the Eastern Star’, I was surprised by what I read. The vitriol and spite the author felt towards everything that wasn’t him made me wonder about this man, and I thought that perhaps it was his age that made him turn this way. After this introduction, I can say with absolute certainty that it is just the way Mr Paul Theroux is.

I have seen people comment on Bill Bryson, saying that his works often disparage people of a certain place or background. In this, they are technically correct — the form of the words is there — but practically wrong. Mr Bryson nearly always finds something worth liking, something worth loving in a place or group of people. There is something interesting that can be commented upon.

Mr Theroux is the exact opposite: Everyone who is not me is a fool; Everywhere I go that isn’t the one place I liked is pointless. Quite possibly — and this is hard to acknowledge — the later new journey had the author mellowed. I can remember Mr Theroux taking an interest in a whole lot more people in ‘Ghost Train to the Eastern Star’ (though to answer one of my other eminent questions, the author’s fixation with prostitution was already there in the 1970’s).

Overall, I can’t recommend this. While I may remember passages such as the crossing from Honshu to Hokkaido for some time, there is no great lasting value in this title.

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