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The great railway bazaar : by train through…
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The great railway bazaar : by train through Asia (original: 1975; edição: 2006)

de Paul Theroux

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2,499594,390 (3.83)134
"I have seldom heard a train go by and not wished I was on it," confesses the author. Take the train with him through Europe and Asia.
Membro:jorgexma
Título:The great railway bazaar : by train through Asia
Autores:Paul Theroux
Informação:Boston : Houghton Mifflin, 2006.
Coleções:Sua biblioteca
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Etiquetas:to-read

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The Great Railway Bazaar de Paul Theroux (1975)

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I re-read this recently and although parts of it are still wonderful, other parts now seem very dated and have not aged well. ( )
  shemthepenman | Jun 4, 2021 |
This is the first book I’ve read by Paul Theroux and I appreciate it so much that I plan to read all his travel books, and perhaps one or two of his other books, some of which have excellent reviews.

He is enamoured of trains and particularly of train journeys. He both begins and ends the book by stating: “Ever since childhood --- I have seldom heard a train go by and not wished I was on it.”

He has an amazing talent for observing and entertainingly describing his fellow passengers, particularly their special quirks and characteristics.

He talks to his fellow passengers, in fact to practically everyone he encounters, and relates long conversations in detail; some of these people practically tell him, and thus us, their life story. We’re also told everyone’s full names and nationalities, though some of these names may have been changed.

Theroux, though a gifted writer, does not always come across as a pleasant man. One thing I don’t find appealing is that, on the one hand, he informs us that he is married with children, but on the other hand elaborates on his visits to prostitutes, pornographic shows and the like. Of course, he can do what he likes, but why does he have to tell us about it all?

He looks at a woman and thinks “God, the things I could do with her”. Again, we don’t want to know this.

He travels through Asia, through Turkey, India (manages to get to Sri Lanka by train though he’s informed it’s impossible), Iran, China, Afghanistan, Japan, Thailand, Burma, Vietnam, and Russia, all the way to Siberia, which is deadly cold, and where he arrives on Christmas Day. The order in which I listed these countries is probably not the order in which he passed through them, and I’m sure I’ve forgotten several.

It is not always clear which country Theroux is in and sometimes he is so dazed by his traversing so many countries so comparatively quickly that he himself gets confused about which one he’s in.

The title of each chapter is the name of the train, for example, the Teheran Express or the Rajdhani Express to Bombay.

Though he mostly takes and enjoys slow trains, to the reader it feels like he’s rushing through Asia at lightning speed, thus the confusion about which country he’s in.

His descriptions are so vivid that it feels like we’re in the trains with him.

The book was published in 1975 so the journey took place years ago. I can only hope that conditions in these Asian countries have improved since then, but I doubt that this is the case, particularly in these Covid19 times.

In the book he creates a neologism “duffilling” because at the start of his journey a man called Duffill leaves the train to get something or other but doesn’t make it back in time; and in some of these countries the trains stop only for short durations so the author is always afraid of being “duffilled”.

He quotes Michael Frayn – “the journey is the goal”.

Another thing I like about Theroux is that he provides the names of all the books he reads on his journeys, and freely refers to and discusses various books and writers; I thus get to add a lot of books to my reading list. He tells us what the other passengers are reading too, and they often discuss these books and other literature. He seems always to be placed together in the trains with eccentric or other noteworthy individuals though I suspect Theroux would find entertaining and quirky characteristics in everyone, no matter whom.

He transmits entire conversations verbatim (as far as we know), portraying the broken English of those he talks to. He compares passengers and situations to characters and episodes in specific novels.

Theroux does not mince words, He describes people as alcoholics, though he himself is quite a drinker: he drinks his way through Asia and generally finds others to drink with; he drinks at least a bottle of alcohol a day, also hard liquor like vodka. His liver must be quite damaged.

People are not overweight, they are fat, and not plain but ugly (not all of them though, some of the women are absolutely enticing, see above).

At one point he admits he is embarked on a fairly aimless enterprise, “the lazy indulgence of travel for its own sake”.

In Turkey he observes that Turks dress the way people did in 1938, though how he knows this, I have no idea.

Theroux’s style is amusing and often makes me laugh out loud. He tells us that a certain man looked rather pious “but it might have been the train. Second class in that part of Turkey lent to every dusty face a look of suffering piety”.

In Iran, at the evening call to prayer it is “as if the train has been stricken with some strange illness. The passengers fall to their knees and salaam.” In the Night Mail to Meshed all the passengers ride facing in the opposite direction from the one they’re travelling in – “they bob along with their eyes turned to Mecca”.

In Afghanistan “the food smelt of cholera, travel there is uncomfortable and sometimes dangerous, and the Afghans are lazy, idle and violent.” Theroux is here extremely judgmental, but then I’m judgmental about him.

In my youth I had plans to go to Afghanistan but didn’t get that far, for which I’m now grateful after reading this.’’

In the book, Theroux quotes from Harry De Windt’s book ”From Pekin to Calais by land” where he gives us the advice “”N’allez pas là” C’est la morale de ce livre!” – Don’t go there!

And this is also absolutely what I most got out of the present book by Thoreaux, and also his book “Riding the Iron Rooster” which I will presently be reviewing. “”Don’t go to these dirty, poverty-stricken places!””

Theroux turns vegetarian since the meat he saw in India was ”foul”.

Sometimes he researches the history of some of the countries and enlightens us about this, though he doesn’t know nearly as much history as another good travel writer, H. V. Morton, one of whose books I’m presently reading.

In the Towers of Silence in Bombay the Parsis place their dead outside to be consumed by vultures.

We are told, “It is the simplest fact of Indian life that there are too many Indians”.

He quotes Mark Twain as saying that in 1896 there were hundreds and hundreds of people wrapped in blankets sleeping on the Bombay streets. Now they are more numerous and the ones Theroux saw had no blankets.

He tells us that Tamils scrub their teeth with eight-inch twigs. Tamils seem to talk constantly – only tooth brushing silences them. ”Pleasure for a Tamil is discussing a large matter (life, truth, beauty, ‘walues’) over a large meal.”

The Tamils in the train agree that Delhi is barbarous.

In Sri Lanka, which they still call Ceylon, he visits the tombs of Cain and Abel, but the tombs are indistinguishable and the Muslim he asks doesn’t know which is which.

The Ceylonese argue in whispers – they are not an excitable people.

The Ceylonese are starving (when Theroux was there) but there is really no food shortage! There is plenty food, but they don’t want to eat it.

People are starving to death but thirty people have signed up for a seminar on American literature at which Theroux is the principal speaker. It runs out that this is because the seminar includes three huge meals, a free room in a hotel and all the whisky you can drink.

The reason the Ceylonese are faint with hunger is that they have driven out the Tamils who have done all the planting, and they have forgotten how to scatter seeds in the ground which would have given them a harvest. Ha, ha!

The bigger the train, the longer the journey, the happier he is. He prefers to travel for two or three days, reading, eating in the dining car and bringing his journal up to date. He eats the vegetarian special.

A fellow passenger comments, “Did you ever see them preparing the food? They kick it around, step on it, cough on it.” (Glad I’m never going to India, or eating out at all, which we can’t do these days anyway, since all cafés and restaurants are closed.)

Bengalis are the most alert people he has met in India, but they are also “irritable, talkative, dogmatic, arrogant, and humourless”.

In Singapore people are fined for breeding mosquitoes, standing in the lobby of a hotel. “allowing insects to breed or for throwing a piece of paper into a drain.

As regards the latter, perhaps we should introduce and enforce laws in my country, Denmark, too for littering. That would be a good idea.

In Singapore an “alien” can be deported for having long hair, and anyone can be fined up to 500 dollars for spitting or throwing paper in the ground. I assume by “alien” Theroux means “foreigner” and not someone from outer space.

Newspapers are censured and no criticism of the government is tolerated. The government is in complete control. (This may be where we are headed in Denmark, where the PM is becoming more and more dictatorial.)

Theroux finds most Singaporeans to be “rude, aggressive, cowardly and inhospitable, full of vague racial fears and responsive to any bullying authority”.

Vietnam is famous for its beaches!

I have to admit that I can’t recall the difference between North and South Vietnam and Theroux doesn’t really help to enlighten the reader in this respect, but just assumes that we know. We hear a lot about what the Americans did in the war.

He is told that the Vietnamese think that Americans are people totally without culture,

In Tokyo he sees people lying dead drunk on the streets, wherever they were “overcome with alcoholic fatigue”. He tells us that they were casualties of the bonus awarded twice a year to Japanese employees, December being one of these months, and he arrived the day the money was “dished out”.

He sees all the stages of drunkenness, from the early one in which they raise their voices, the one in which they throw up and sing to the one in which they collapse in a freezing street.

The Russians on the train are drunk all the time and drink everything – cognac, sour watery beer, red wine, vodka and champagne.

He comes to resent Russia’s size and wants to go home.

The cook who supplies him with booze beats a woman with his fists and kicks her head.

Re the other passengers, “I passed each one, seeing criminality and fraud in their faces, loutishness in their little eyes.”

To sum up, though I found the book very readable, informative and enjoyable, it was mostly extremely depressing, as you will see from the above.

It shows that humanity is by no means at a high stage of development. ( )
  IonaS | Feb 7, 2021 |
Read this years ago. I was young. It was love at first sight. Couldn’t put it down, so was awake for 48 hours. As a lover of trains, cultural observations, factoids and travel (not to mention travelling by train) this opened me up to the writings of Theroux, the rest of which I devoured swiftly. ( )
  letocq | Feb 6, 2021 |
A distasteful travelling companion, who can nevertheless turn a lovely phrase.
Some brilliant observations of characters and landscapes, especially in India and Vietnam. However, the author’s personality as he depicts himself, although allowing him to enter into situations where I would never go myself, appears to lack sufficient empathy with all those he meets. And although it is a four month train journey, he is only fleetingly present in any one country, which although initially exhilarating, I found dissatisfying by the end of the book. And by the end of the book Theroux had also sickened of the romance of travel, leaving a sour taste - too much drunken wretchedness at his own privileged position.

So, I am left glad to have read the book, but not wishing to join Theroux on another journey soon.

As the days passed I slowed down and, with Nagel’s Turkey in my hand, began sightseeing, an activity that delights the truly idle because it seems so much like scholarship, gawping and eavesdropping on antiquity, flattering oneself with the notion that one is discovering the past when really one is inventing it, using a guidebook as a series of swift notations. p36

A workman came, dressed like a grizzly bear. He set up a ladder with the meaningless mechanical care of an actor in an experimental play whose purpose is to baffle a bored audience. p319

The Folio Society edition is another beautiful book, a satisfying size, font and well illustrated (not the author’s photos, but roughly contemporaneous), with a useful map at the endpapers. ( )
1 vote CarltonC | Apr 21, 2020 |
I'm revisiting Theroux in order and what a great start to his travel writing career. The Trans Siberian gets only a brief section near the end, but given the length of the journey that's not surprising - you've got to be counting the miles at that point. Interesting to contrast the condition of the rail stock against that experienced in the Old Patagonia Express, written only four years later but several economic development cycles apart. ( )
  sarcher | Jan 5, 2020 |
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Nome do autorFunçãoTipo de autorObra?Status
Theroux, Paulautor principaltodas as ediçõesconfirmado
Abreu, FernandaTradutorautor secundárioalgumas ediçõesconfirmado
Godó Costa, JuanTradutorautor secundárioalgumas ediçõesconfirmado
Hanssen, TorilTradutorautor secundárioalgumas ediçõesconfirmado
Koreman, KorTradutorautor secundárioalgumas ediçõesconfirmado
McLoughlin, DeborahIntroduçãoautor secundárioalgumas ediçõesconfirmado
Motta, MarisaTradutorautor secundárioalgumas ediçõesconfirmado
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"I have seldom heard a train go by and not wished I was on it," confesses the author. Take the train with him through Europe and Asia.

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3 edições deste livro foram publicadas por Penguin Australia.

Edições: 0141189142, 0141038845, 0143566520

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