Thirty-three years ago, Paul Theroux made an expedition from London to Asia via train. During this period, he wrote The Great Railway Bazaar which gave an account of this journey. In “Ghost Train to the Eastern Star”, Paul Theroux embarks on another expedition from London through Central Europe, Turkey and then across several Asian countries such as India, Vietnam and Sri Lanka. The final country that he visits during this second expedition is Japan, after which he makes his way back home using the Trans-Siberian Railway. The Ghost Train to the Eastern Star is divided into 32 chapters. The book has gained a cult status among scholars even earning recognition as a classic work of literature.
Even though this second expedition represents a relatively new experience, Theroux still gives accounts of what he observes, comparing it to the early visits described in The Great Railway Bazaar. Paul Theroux gives the reader vivid firsthand accounts of events and scenes that he witnesses in the course of his journey. Additionally, through his writing, his persona is revealed. For example, he despises China for its honking greediness for development. He avoids the nation and, therefore, chooses to take a flight from Niigata to Vladivostok where he again travels back to Russia. His hate for China is also seen when he takes a swap at its leadership and talks about its frosty relationship with America. He notes that he has only met two people who supported George Bush during his entire 28,000-mile journey (Theroux, 2008, p. 201).
Through his writing, Theroux also comes across as a lover of the wilderness. When he gets to Istanbul, he describes it as ‘a city that has the soul of a village.’(Theroux, 2008, p. 42) His love for the wilderness is also seen when he is describing the people of Tokyo. He says that everyone seemed to have been given the same memo to walk fast and look worried.
In a nutshell, Theroux is very observant of the various changes and sceneries of the cities and countries that he visits. His brilliance as an author is exhibited via his close, semi-global and panoramic view of the countries and the cities that he visits.
For example, he talks about some of the changes in India. Although most of changes are progressive, he is fast to note that some places in India have virtually stayed the same. A specific example is the Greasy Josinder café and pastry shop that has now become an internet café. He also describes the rising industrialization in India and the increase of technological skills among Indians. To elaborate on this, he talks about how Californians were visiting Indian call centers to be advised on their cell phone related problems. One thing, however, that makes Theroux skeptical of the changes in India is the fact that a majority of the nation’s population still lives below the poverty line.
Although Theroux maintains a relatively unbiased outlook of the nations that he visits, there are instances in the book where he come across as boastful. He also appears to have a generalization mentality. For example, when he first arrives in Turkey, he nostalgically summarizes it as a peasant country. He goes further to describe Georgia as a beleaguered and supine country with a narcissistic population (Theroux, 2008, p. 74). He even compares the country with a beautiful crump woman he saw in the desert. He boasts about himself when he says that travel gives one glimpses of the differences between the past and the present, and he appears to insinuate that he is perhaps the most travelled person in the word. His large ego is also observed when he meets Orhan Pamuk, a famous author who is also a Nobel Prize winner. He says that Pamuk reminds him of himself.
Most of the stories in this book are more of a personal response than historic in nature. Other than meeting the Nobel Prize winner, he speaks of how he spent a whole hour while on a train in Thailand watching a compatriot traveler reading a book of his and also how ended up telling half of his travel experiences to a woman at a bookstore thinking that she might not have believed him. He is also seen reading, eating, doing crosswords and even having a haircut. He is also seen getting drunk much less than he did during his first expedition. However, the many miles he has covered makes him fully aware of his surrounding, and he plays an omnipresent role throughout the entire book.
Theroux refers to his long trips as sentimental. After the lengthy travels, Theroux states that although the places that he has travelled through have undergone massive changes, the biggest change has taken place in his own being. He writes that ‘What is the difference between then and now? I knew it wasn’t all the changes.it weren’t computers or the internet The greatest difference was in me. I had survived the long road that led to the present (Theroux, 2008, p. 432). It appears as if Theroux had very low expectations and much contempt for political curiosities. His assertions also give the reader the perception that the whole journey was to merely satisfy himself. This is proven by the tone of each line of his thoughts when on his trips in Tokyo as well as other Asian cities. On a positive note however, Theroux is happy that he has survived to embark on a second trip after the war had ended in Vietnam. Overall, he feels that his second trip was better than the first which he took almost thirty years earlier.
Theroux, P. (2008). Ghost train to the Eastern star: On the tracks of the great railway bazaar. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.