Ghost Trains! Safaris! A Legendary Literary Master Travels The Rails! Paul Theroux!


Looks a bit crowded…but that never stops one intrepid “ghost traveler”…

cambodia train

“And we lucky ghosts can travel wherever we want…”

I love to travel. I know that many of you do, too….have you ever considered seeing the world by train? Well, one great Writer has done it – multiple times, and here are those great adventures! Time to share another great travel book from the Master “lucky ghost”, Writer Paul Theroux!

travel writer paul theroux

Theroux has written dozens of books, both fiction and non-fiction…you may know his classic novel “The Mosquito Coast”, which was turned into a film with Harrison Ford…


It is a classic tale of a man who tries to escape form society, along with his family…in many ways, that is just a fictionalized version of Theroux’s world view…which leads to some of the greatest travel writing of all time, because as he says:

“…we lucky ghosts can travel wherever we want…”


Paul Theroux has traveled the world for many years, and each time, he explores the lives of the people who inhabit an area – bringing their world to life for those of us who have “wanderlust” – a goal to explore the exotic as well as the extreme…and Theroux explores the world as “one of the people”…so we see how real people live…nothing captures that style as well as his masterpiece:


The Great Railway Bazaar!

Theroux’s journeys began in the early 70’s when he traveled through Europe and Asia by way of the railroads….resulting in the classic memoir “The Great Railway Bazaar”!

Writer Paul Theroux

It is a trip, by rail, through western and eastern Europe, then into India, Sri Lanka and Asia, including Cambodia, China and Vietnam…he also goes to Japan before taking a Siberian train back to London by way of Russia…it’s a terrific memoir, full of colorful adventures and a disintegrating marriage of his own…and 30 years later, Theroux retraces his steps…

“Ghost Train To The Eastern Star”

It’s a brilliant idea: re-trace the same map from thirty years earlier, to compare and contrast the places he visited as a young man…here is a short excerpt as he boards the train:

“He insisted on making my bed, and then – rubbing his fingers together in the money gesture – demanded 10 lari, about $5. This seems steep, but when a big ugly man wearing a uniform in a foreign country asks for a small, specific sum, I usually hand it over.”

train travel

His journey includes stops in the “now broken apart” Russia, and these depressed eastern European countries provide a stark reminder of just how far behind modern society these countries are…even more enlightening is Theroux’s time spent in India, a country speeding into the 21st century – but still impoverished as well…

cambodia train

Theroux explores it all and illuminates these realities – acting as a “lucky ghost” who can observe without calling attention to himself – and although he has a route to follow, he also has the time to stop and immerse himself in a country…as he says:

“Arriving in the hinterland with only the vaguest plans was a liberating event…”

He takes advantage of an open schedule to follow the story and gain insight and perspective to share with the reader…

paul theroux train book

Theroux loves to explore – to see how people cope with the day-to-day aspects of life…their customs, challenges, and opportunities…he talks to people – and more importantly HE LISTENS. Also, railroads are the main source of transportation for hundreds of millions of people…this is an actual picture of a train station in India…


Theroux hates airports, and mostly avoid them in his travels – as he writes:

“They would be better off on a national railway, probably the best way of getting a glimpse of how people actually live – the back yards, the barns, the hovels, the side roads and slums, the telling facts of village life, the misery that airplanes fly over…”

This is a truly inspiring and enlightening book – and just one of his many incredible adventures…like his classic book on Africa!

“Dark Star Safari: Overland from Cairo to Cape Town” by Paul Theroux

In the travel-writing tradition that made Paul Theroux’s reputation, “Dark Star Safari” is a rich and insightful book whose itinerary is Africa, from Cairo to Cape Town: down the Nile, through Sudan and Ethiopia, to Kenya, Uganda, and ultimately to the tip of South Africa.

Going by train, dugout canoe, “chicken bus,” and cattle truck, Theroux passes through some of the most beautiful — and often life-threatening — landscapes on earth.

This isn’t a safari – this is a look at a continent struggling for survival…

This is travel as discovery and also, in part, a sentimental journey. Almost forty years ago, Theroux first went to Africa as a teacher in the Malawi bush. Now he stops at his old school, sees former students, revisits his African friends. He finds astonishing, devastating changes wherever he goes.

“Africa is materially more decrepit than it was when I first knew it,” he writes, “hungrier, poorer, less educated, more pessimistic, more corrupt, and you can’t tell the politicians from the witch doctors. Not that Africa is one place. It is an assortment of motley republics and seedy chiefdoms. I got sick, I got stranded, but I was never bored. In fact, my trip was a delight and a revelation.”

Seeing firsthand what is happening across Africa, Theroux is as obsessively curious and wittily observant as always, and his readers will find themselves on an epic and enlightening journey. Dark Star Safari is one of his bravest and best books.

travel writer paul theroux

As much as I imagine an African Safari to look like this, the book is a fascinating journey through a land trying to change, adapt and survive…this is travel writing at its best!

Theroux has written so many great travel books, like this one, where he travels “the pillars of hercules!”

pillars of hercules

The Pillars Of Hercules: A Grand Tour Of The Mediterranean – by Paul Theroux

Paul Theroux is a brilliant writer of both fiction AND non-fiction, but it is his collection of aggressive, opinionated travel books that I love. This is also one of his best!

Theroux is cantankerous – he writes as someone who wants to experience life – not as a tourist, but as an adventurer…and he views the world through the people who live in it, not from a distance, but up close…

These are the “pillars of Hercules” – that narrow passageway between Gibraltor and the northern edge of the african continent. What does it hold within? Why the Mediterranean of course!

The difference between a tourist and a traveler, says Theroux, is that the tourist knows where he’s going. In this latest adventure, his only aim was to explore the Mediterranean coast without resort to airplanes.

As a result, he found himself in unfamiliar villages on untraveled roads, acquired unexpected companions and slept in an assortment of inns, from fleabags to Hilton hotels, seeing the heavily trafficked French Riviera like this…

…and also seeing Gibraltar Spain, Croatia, Sardinia, Greece, Albania, Morocco, the Levant and Israel. He travels completely around the Mediterranean and shares his adventure…

His pictures, like those of a wanderer with a sharp eye and an informed intelligence, though a large measure of condescension as well, are fresh even when he lands in well-reported places.

Although most of his informants are casually met, now and then he interviews the famous, among them Paul Bowles in Morocco, Naguib Mahfouz in Egypt, and others, who share what life in this part of the world is really like, and it’s alot more than just what a tourist would see.

You may or may not have visited some of these countries: I guarantee you haven’t visited them all, and he does, with a keen eye for the usual, and the unusual…

This is a Mediterranean coast few know, as exotic and tumultuous now as throughout history. And it is a dangerous trip as well…this is a terrific adventure book, beautifully written and expertly documented…makes me want to go to all of these countries!


Categories: Books / Media, China, Exotic Travel, Food, London, Paris, Politics, Talent/Celebrities, Tokyo!, Travel, Travel Adventures, Travel Memoir, Uncategorized, Wacky Food

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9 replies

  1. Fantastic article, John. I admire Paul for going to the place and experiencing the culture in order to give his writing authenticity. I like to do that as well. Can’t say I’d want to go to the same places Paul has gone, and I’m embarrassed to admit I’ve not read any of his books! I did enjoy The Mosquito Coast, though.

    Liked by 1 person


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