Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Journeying into the Past

One of the books I'm most excited about reading this fall (yes, all book reps are now in a fall mindset as sales conferences loom), is Paul Theroux's Ghost Train to the Eastern Star: 28,000 Miles in Search of the Railway Bazaar, in which he retraces the journey he took over thirty years ago and recounted in his bestselling book The Great Railway Bazaar - one of the great travel books. Can't wait. But in the meantime, you can read this piece by Theroux in The Guardian, in which he writes about how that first book came about, gives a nod to his favourite travel writers, happily enthuses about the joys of train travel, and outlines his travelling and travel-writing philosophies:

The travel book was a bore. It annoyed me that a traveller hid his or her moments of desperation or fear or lust. Or the time he or she screamed at the taxi driver, or mocked the folk dancers. And what did they eat, what books did they read to kill time, and what were the toilets like? I had done enough travelling to know that half of travel was delay or nuisance - buses breaking down, hotel clerks being rude, market peddlers being rapacious. The truth of travel was interesting and off-key, and few people ever wrote about it.

Theroux's new book will partly explore the vast changes that have taken place in Eastern Europe, the Middle East and China since that first trip, which reminds me of another travel book I've been dipping into and which Theroux fans would also enjoy. Dutch journalist Geert Mak spent 1999 travelling around Europe, visiting in particular those places that had huge historical importance in the 20th century. His resulting book In Europe, is part travelogue and part reflection on how those historical events have shaped and changed contemporary Europe. Essential reading for anyone like myself who loves to travel in Europe - especially by train.

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