At first when I started reading through Paul Theroux’s oeuvre, I felt a bit cheated; I couldn’t understand how this guy, who writes with an eloquence and style not seen much these days, could be so negative throughout his travels. It seemed that at every station Theroux departed, he would walk into town, complain, then walk back to his train to ride to the next town, where he’d complain anew. However, I quickly became engrossed in his writing, and I found a underlying humor in it. His opinions are based on his experiences, and they are as valid as someone’s who has had a great experience.
Book of Note – The Old Patagonian Express
In this book, Paul Theroux recounts his solo adventure as he spans the Western Hemisphere, from north to south, by train. Starting off in his home in the northeastern U.S., in Massachusetts, he travels by train to Chicago, then down through Mexico and Central America, across into South America, and down by various trains to his destination of Patagonia, at the southern tip of South America. Throughout the book, Theroux displays his wry, witty humor in the conversations he has with people he meets, as well as in the way he describes anything even infinitesimally less than pleasing. Despite his seemingly perpetual sore mood, this book has led me to believe that he is actually a traveler that is to be admired, as much as he’s an author that should be admired. In it, I was shown an honest side of solo traveling, how it’s tough on the mind, rather than the enchanting and exotic notion that many of us attribute a solo adventure who’ve only dreamed about such things. As he was gone for months, through countries and cultures that span the spectrum, I was able to see also true-to-life emotions: his fear in dangerous places, disgust in dirty ones, and joy for simple pleasures such as when the train passed through beautiful scenery.
Aside from being a study on human characteristics, the book is replete with humorous conversations, precarious situations (also funny), and even an appearance by another famous author, the renowned Jorge Luis Borges. Theroux in this book may most have in his favor a compelling and enlightened examination and commentary on the culture, traditions, and economy of the various peoples he comes across, something that many travel writers seems to forego nowadays. The Old Patagonian Express is well worth the read, and is almost something of a classic in the sub-genre of travel writing.
This “Recommended Reading” column is a short dedication to books that I believe are relevant to travel. They may be fiction, biographies, recounts of a specific adventures, and I’ve fully read the mentioned book and recommend it for one or more reasons to other travelers. Disclaimer: I do not consider myself a writer of any particular strength or merit, but these are not reviews. I will not consider grammar, style, or locution, unless it is in a positive light. I recommend these books simply for the fact that I believe that they contribute to inspiring a desire for travel, a consciousness of cultures and traditions, and/or a thirst for learning about the world. For more “Recommended Reading,” click HERE ->
*Photo of Paul Theroux by Wikimedia Commons user Rupal Agrawal.