Ghost Train to the Eastern Star – Paul Theroux

Posted on May 31, 2010


– about Georgia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, India, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Japan and Russia. 


I fell in love with Paul Theroux’s prose, although not immediately. Indeed, the introductory pages of his ‘Ghost Train to the Eastern Star’ felt tedious, loaded with heavy words and structures, and a bit pretentious. I could have got this impression because it was my first Theroux book, or because, after all, it was true. Whatever the reason, I pushed on and was thoroughly rewarded.

Theroux’s prose remains heavy throughout the book, but somehow it fits, in its attempt at portraying country after country and myriad conversations and encounters. The ambition of his writing style also very cleverly contrasts his lack of pretentiousness when it comes to explaining what he, as a travel writer, will attempt to create. He understands that ‘’Little bits of uncompleted life’ – what the travel writer habitually sees – inspire pathos and poetry, as well as the maddening sense of being an outsider, jumping to conclusions and generalizing, inventing or re-creating places from vibrant glimpses.’ – a fact which I found more true of someone like Bill Bryson than  Theroux himself.

In the space of approximately 500 mesmerizing pages, Theroux takes the reader on a journey, mostly on ground level, through parts of Europe, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and India, then down to Sri Lanka , continuing onwards to Southeast Asian countries like Vietnam, Myanmar and Thailand, and glimpsing china before entering Japan and finally returning back to England through the Trans-Siberian route. How he manages to write so coherently in tone and prose across half the globe remains somewhat of a mystery to me, but all I have to say is that he is as convincing when telling of the oddities of the now-deceased Turkmen leader as he is with his poignant rendition  of Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge plight.

I’ve said many times that I enjoy slow travel, and maybe that’s why I loved this book so much, even through those pages when seemingly nothing happens apart from the unfolding and changing of a landscape viewed through the windows of a train.  And ‘slow’ is the key to enjoying this book; savour it at a leisurely pace, and read page after page meticulously. If you’re travel deprived, you’ll find, as I did, immense comfort in a journey anyone could have and can undertake, but about which only Theroux could have written in this manner.

Find Ghost Train to the Eastern star and many more recommendations in my book shop.



-Travel Book Reviews by Denise Pulis @