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Ghost Train to the Eastern Star: On the Tracks of the Great Railway Bazaar Paperback – August 6, 2009
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"Theroux wanders to places that scarcely cross other travel writers' minds, among tham Vientiane ('a sleepy town on the banks of the muddy river, famous for its cheap beer') and Phnom Penh ('scruffy, rather beaten-up...like a scarred human face in which its violent past was evident'). He also keeps up a running argument with the books he reads along the way, to say nothing of his contemporaries )Chatwin never traveled alone, he harumphs, and neither does his bete noire Naipaul."
"Brilliant. No one writes with theroux's head-on intensity and raptness, and his descriptions made me want to jump on the next plane to Istanbul (and also, of course, to many of the other places he evokes). I particularly loved the spectral motif, the ghosts and shadows and underground presences that flit through the narrative, giving the whole a half-seen and haunting dimension that no book of travels I've ever read conjures up." --Pico Iyer
“As thoughtful and observant as ever…this trip finds Theroux reflecting not only on changes to the landscape but also to himself…a wonderful book infused with the insights of maturity…it’s a reminder that in this age of increasingly homogenous urban centers and easy air travel, those who really want to discern national differences should stay on the ground.”
Booklist, ALA, Starred Review
About the Author
- ASIN : 0547237936
- Publisher : Mariner Books; Reprint edition (August 6, 2009)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 512 pages
- ISBN-10 : 9780547237930
- ISBN-13 : 978-0547237930
- Item Weight : 1 pounds
- Dimensions : 5.1 x 1.28 x 7.9 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #95,932 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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In most of Theroux’s books, he meets other famous writers, and leaves enriched by the experience. I dare say, meeting Theroux should be and enriching experience for those writers. Theroux knows Africa, probably better than any other continent. If you have been or ever contemplated traveling to Africa, read this book. Theroux’s Africa is a masterpiece.
From reading the many comments regarding Ghost Train it becomes immediately apparent that "you either love him or hate him" but his travel books, this one in particular, are always a fascinating mental journey for the reader. Yes, he is arrogant (some of his Singapore students will attest to that); he is hugely opinionated about the people and countries that he visits; he is, perhaps, superficial in his judgements of those people and countries and he is profoundly individual in his assessment of the places that he visits. Having said all of this his comments are razor sharp concerning the places where our journeys have overlapped. Also his comments distil the substance of a country into manageable quantities for readers to imbibe.
There are far too many instances in his books that are memorable: his description of the economic mess that he found in the "stans" that he visited; the moral complexity of Japanese society vis-a-vis females; the potential human future in India; the excruciating state of Russia after the West won the Cold War; the alternative future presented in contemporary Singapore.
I do not share the criticisms found in these comments; Theroux is harsh when finds obvious situations that he feels cannot be overlooked; I do not think he looks for the "seedy side of town" it is just that it is ever-present; Christians are so blatantly silly in their proselytizing that they simply cannot be overlooked. In short Theroux paints brilliant pictures of the places he visits and we readers are vastly richer for this activity.
Theroux travels in a very unique way, by rail, by himself. He does not set his sights on tourist meccas, but instead travels to places I vaguely remember hearing of, places I really never heard of, or places I would never in my wildest dreams pick as vacation destination sights. Yet, sitting back in bed each night, I could not get enough of each of his adventures and descriptions and thoughts.
Theroux attempted to revisit many of the places he had been to on a railway trip over thirty years earlier, to see what had changed and what had remained the same. He would speak to everyday people who traveled with him on the train or with folks he met at train stations or cities he was visiting. Often, he would strike up a conversation with a man who appeared to be of a similar age to himself. In this way, he was able to give the reader a feeling of what everyday life was like in the city and perhaps what changes had occurred over time. Theroux has mastered the art of asking questions of everyday folks and making them want to share their lives and experiences.
I know I am not doing justice here, as I am at a loss to how to describe this book and why I loved it so much. Theroux tells it as it is, as he sees it. What he says makes sense to me. He doesn't candy coat anything. And yet, he doesn't come off as a curmudgeon in my view. I can't wait to read another Theroux book. If you haven't experienced Theroux, you need to now!
Top reviews from other countries
I can imagine this being an atmospheric read in the context of a backpacking trek.
I read recently that his most recent travel book, 'Zona Verde' might be his last, which would be a great shame as I am enjoying following his adventures so much.