Monday, August 17, 2009

Paul Theroux's Ghost Train

In the early 1970s, a young author named Paul Theroux embarked on an adventurous voyage. After rambling across much of Asia and Russia via local trains, Theroux penned a book about his travels, The Great Railway Bazaar. It assured Theroux's literary reputation and cemented his commercial appeal.

The bestselling book set a new standard in travel writing, an antidote to mass consumption of newly cheap, anonymous airline travel. Now a grand old man with over 40 books to his credit, Theroux resolved to revisit the path he followed in that first groundbreaking book. Ghost Train to the Eastern Star: On the Tracks of the Great Railway Bazaar isn't an exact replication (Theroux skips Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran this time around.)

He visits call centers in the formerly sleepy, now rapidly metastasizing Indian city of Bangalore. He considers the human rights abuses — past and present — in Cambodia, Myanmar and what we in the U.S. sometimes refer to as the "'stans" of central Asia. He glories in Istanbul: "A city with the soul of a village." And he immerses himself in conversation with tea sellers, Nobel prize winners, monks, businessmen and rickshaw drivers. Theroux also indulges in a fair amount of soul searching.

My conversation with Paul Theroux:

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