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Free Preview: Ghost Train to the Eastern Star: On the Tracks of the Great Railway Bazaar by Paul Theroux

Free Preview: Ghost Train to the Eastern Star: On the Tracks of the Great Railway Bazaar by Paul Theroux

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Thirty years after the epic journey chronicled in his classic work The Great Railway Bazaar, the world’s most acclaimed travel writer re-creates his 25,000-mile journey through eastern Europe, central Asia, the Indian subcontinent, China, Japan, and Siberia.

Half a lifetime ago, Paul Theroux virtually invented the modern travel narrative by recounting his grand tour by train through Asia. In the three decades since, the world he recorded in that book has undergone phenomenal change. The Soviet Union has collapsed and China has risen; India booms while Burma smothers under dictatorship; Vietnam flourishes in the aftermath of the havoc America was unleashing on it the last time Theroux passed through. And no one is better able to capture the texture, sights, smells, and sounds of that changing landscape than Theroux.
Theroux’s odyssey takes him from eastern Europe, still hung-over from communism, through tense but thriving Turkey into the Caucasus, where Georgia limps back toward feudalism while its neighbor Azerbaijan revels in oil-fueled capitalism. Theroux is firsthand witness to it all, traveling as the locals do—by stifling train, rattletrap bus, illicit taxi, and mud-caked foot—encountering adventures only he could have: from the literary (sparring with the incisive Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk) to the dissolute (surviving a week-long bender on the Trans-Siberian Railroad). And wherever he goes, his omnivorous curiosity and unerring eye for detail never fail to inspire, enlighten, inform, and entertain.

PAUL THEROUX was born in Medford, Massachusetts, in 1941 and published his first novel, Waldo, in 1967. His fiction includes The Mosquito Coast, My Secret History, My Other Life, Kowloon Tong, Blinding Light, and most recently, The Elephanta Suite. His highly acclaimed travel books include Riding the Iron Rooster, The Great Railway Bazaar, The Old Patagonian Express, Fresh Air Fiend, and Dark Star Safari. He has been the guest editor of The Best American Travel Writing and is a frequent contributor to various magazines, including The New Yorker. He lives in Hawaii and on Cape Cod.
Thirty years after the epic journey chronicled in his classic work The Great Railway Bazaar, the world’s most acclaimed travel writer re-creates his 25,000-mile journey through eastern Europe, central Asia, the Indian subcontinent, China, Japan, and Siberia.

Half a lifetime ago, Paul Theroux virtually invented the modern travel narrative by recounting his grand tour by train through Asia. In the three decades since, the world he recorded in that book has undergone phenomenal change. The Soviet Union has collapsed and China has risen; India booms while Burma smothers under dictatorship; Vietnam flourishes in the aftermath of the havoc America was unleashing on it the last time Theroux passed through. And no one is better able to capture the texture, sights, smells, and sounds of that changing landscape than Theroux.
Theroux’s odyssey takes him from eastern Europe, still hung-over from communism, through tense but thriving Turkey into the Caucasus, where Georgia limps back toward feudalism while its neighbor Azerbaijan revels in oil-fueled capitalism. Theroux is firsthand witness to it all, traveling as the locals do—by stifling train, rattletrap bus, illicit taxi, and mud-caked foot—encountering adventures only he could have: from the literary (sparring with the incisive Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk) to the dissolute (surviving a week-long bender on the Trans-Siberian Railroad). And wherever he goes, his omnivorous curiosity and unerring eye for detail never fail to inspire, enlighten, inform, and entertain.

PAUL THEROUX was born in Medford, Massachusetts, in 1941 and published his first novel, Waldo, in 1967. His fiction includes The Mosquito Coast, My Secret History, My Other Life, Kowloon Tong, Blinding Light, and most recently, The Elephanta Suite. His highly acclaimed travel books include Riding the Iron Rooster, The Great Railway Bazaar, The Old Patagonian Express, Fresh Air Fiend, and Dark Star Safari. He has been the guest editor of The Best American Travel Writing and is a frequent contributor to various magazines, including The New Yorker. He lives in Hawaii and on Cape Cod.

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Published by: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on Aug 04, 2009
Copyright:Traditional Copyright: All rights reserved

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12/03/2014

 
::
1
::
the eurostar
Y
ou think
of travelers as bold, but our guilty secret is thattravel is one of the laziest ways on earth of passing the time.Travel is not merely the business of being bone-idle, but also anelaborate bumming evasion, allowing us to call attention to ourselveswith our conspicuous absence while we intrude upon other people’s pri-vacy — being actively offensive as fugitive freeloaders. The traveler is thegreediest kind of romantic voyeur, and in some well-hidden part of thetraveler’s personality is an unpickable knot of vanity, presumption, andmythomania bordering on the pathological. This is why a traveler’sworst nightmare is not the secret police or the witch doctors or malaria,but rather the prospect of meeting another traveler.Most writing about travel takes the form of jumping to conclusions,and so most travel books are superfluous,the thinnest,most transparentmonologuing. Little better than a license to bore, travel writing is thelowest form of literary self-indulgence: dishonest complaining, creativemendacity, pointless heroics, and chronic posturing, much of it dis-torted with Munchausen syndrome.Of course, it’s much harder to stay at home and be polite to peopleand face things,but wheres the book in that? Better the boastful charadeof pretending to be an adventurer:
Yes, swagger the nut-strewn roads,Crouch in the fo’c’sleStubbly with goodness,
in a lusty “Look-at-me!”in exotic landscapes.This was more or less my mood as I was packing to leave home. I alsothought:
But there is curiosity.
Even the most timid fantasists need the
 
satisfaction of now and then enacting their fantasies. And sometimes you just have to clear out. Trespassing is a pleasure for some of us. As foridleness, “An aimless joy is a pure joy.”
And there are dreams:
one, the dream of a foreign land that I enjoy athome, staring east into space at imagined temples, crowded bazaars, andwhat V. S. Pritchett called “human architecture,lovely women in gauzy clothes, old trains clattering on mountainsides, the mirage of happiness;two,the dream state of travel itself.Often on a trip,I seem to be alive in ahallucinatory vision of difference, the highly colored unreality of for-eignness, where I am vividly aware (as in most dreams) that I don’t be-long; yet I am floating, an idle anonymous visitor among busy people,an utter stranger. When you’re strange, as the song goes, no one remem-bers your name.Travel can induce such a distinct and nameless feeling of strangenessand disconnection in me that I feel insubstantial, like a puff of smoke,merely a ghost, a creepy revenant from the underworld, unobserved andwatchful among real people, wandering, listening while remaining un-seen. Being invisible the usual condition of the older traveler ismuch more useful than being obvious. You see more, you are not inter-rupted, you are ignored. Such a traveler isn’t in a hurry, which is why  you might mistake him for a bum. Hating schedules, depending onchance encounters, I am attracted by travel’s slow tempo.Ghosts have all the time in the world, another pleasure of long-dis-tance aimlessness — traveling at half speed on slow trains and procrasti-nating. And this ghostliness, I was to find, was also an effect of the jour-ney I had chosen, returning to places I had known many years ago. It isalmost impossible to return to an early scene in your traveling life andnot feel like a specter. And many places I saw were themselves sad andspectral, others big and hectic, while I was the haunting presence, theeavesdropping shadow on the ghost train.
long after i took
the trip I wrote about in
The Great Railway Bazaar 
I went on thinking how I’d gone overland,changing trains acrossAsia, improvising my trip, rubbing against the world. And reflecting onwhat I’d seen — the way the unrevisited past is always looping in yourdreams. Memory is a ghost train too. Ages later, you still ponder thebeautiful face you once glimpsed in a distant country. Or the sight of a
2 ghost train to the eastern star
 
noble tree, or a country road, or a happy table in a café, or some angry boys armed with rusty spears shrieking, “Run you life,
dim-dim! 
” — orthe sound of a train at night, striking that precise musical note of trainwhistles, a diminished third, into the darkness, as you lie in the train,moving through the world as travelers do, “inside the whale.”Thirty-three years went by. I was then twice as old as the person whohad ridden those trains, most of them pulled by steam locomotives,boiling across the hinterland of Turkey and India. I loved the symmetry in the time difference. Time passing had become something serious tome, embodied in the process of my growing old. As a young man I re-garded the earth as a fixed and trustworthy thing that would see me intomy old age; but older, I began to understand transformation as a naturallaw, something emotional in an undependable world that was visibly spoiled. It is only with age that you acquire the gift to evaluate decay, theepiphany of Wordsworth, the wisdom of 
wabi 
-
sabi:
nothing is perfect,nothing is complete, nothing lasts.“Without change there can be no nostalgia,a friend once said to me,and I realized that what I began to witness was not just change and de-cay, but imminent extinction. Had my long-ago itinerary changed asmuch as me? I had the idea of taking the same trip again,traveling in my own footsteps — a serious enterprise, but the sort of trip that younger,opportunistic punks often take to make a book and get famous.
*
The best of travel seems to exist outside of time, as though the yearsof travel are not deducted from your life. Travel also holds the magicalpossibility of reinvention: that you might find a place you love, to begina new life and never go home. In a distant place no one knows you —nearly always a plus. And you can pretend, in travel, to be different fromthe person you are, unattached, enigmatic, younger, richer or poorer,anyone you choose to be, the rebirth that many travelers experience if they go far enough.The decision to return to any early scene in your life is dangerousbut irresistible, not as a search for lost time but for the grotesquerie of what happened since. In most cases it is like meeting an old lover yearslater and hardly recognizing the object of desire in this pinched and
the eurostar 3
* The list is very long and includes travelers’ books in the footsteps of Graham Greene,George Orwell, Robert Louis Stevenson, Leonard Woolf, Joseph Conrad, Mr. Kurtz, H. M.Stanley, Leopold Bloom, Saint Paul, Basho, Jesus, and Buddha.

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