Ghost Train to the Eastern Star is a travelogue by Paul Theroux, in which he retraces his epic journey of thirty years ago. He travels through Eastern Europe, Turkey, the Caucasus, Central Asia, the Indian Subcontinent, China, Japan, and Siberia, traversing all of Asia from top to bottom and end to end.
The book has a different feel from his previous journey through east Africa, as connections are less frequent, and much time is spent in shared sleeping compartments lost in his solitary thoughts.
Theroux dislikes air travel and group travel, preferring to talk with strangers on the train. He ruminates on his ‘Tao of Travel’ and regurgitates his personal peeves too often.
However, he is at his best when painting pictures of the people and places he sees on the way. A backdrop to this trip is the Iraq war, and Theroux takes note of the criticism he hears as he travels through Muslim lands.
The book covers Theroux’s journey through various countries, including Vladivostok, Moscow, Berlin, Istanbul, Tbilisi, Baku, Turkmenistan, Bukhara, India, Jodhpur, Jaipur, and Mumbai. He visits slums, modern call centers, and attends various festivals. He also meets Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk and sci-fi writer Arthur C. Clarke.
What I Liked
I will read anything by Paul Theroux and Bill Bryson. They are both crochety old guys. But Theroux especially is master of observation, talking to people, and traveling in a way to truly understand a region and the people who live there. He’s also funny, direct, and interesting.
What I Did Not Like
Nothing – excellent read. It’s still on my shelf to read again.