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The Great Railway Bazaar

3.94 of 5 stars 3.94  ·  rating details  ·  8,437 ratings  ·  419 reviews
First published more than thirty years ago, Paul Theroux's strange, unique, and hugely entertaining railway odyssey has become a modern classic of travel literature. Here Theroux recounts his early adventures on an unusual grand continental tour. Asia's fabled trains -- the Orient Express, the Khyber Pass Local, the Frontier Mail, the Golden Arrow to Kuala Lumpur, the Mand...more
ebook, 352 pages
Published June 1st 2006 by Mariner Books (first published 1975)
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Brad
Paul Theroux...you are a miserable bastard.

On every excruciating page of this around Europe and Asia whine-fest, I wanted to shake your self-righteous little New England prick shoulders and beat some enjoyment into your crabby-bastardness.

The trains are late or crowded or smelly -- waaaaah!

The food is crappy or elsewhere or non-existent -- waaaaah! waaaaah!

The service is poor or sarcastic or requiring bribes (sorry..."baksheesh." Boy are you ever cool and in the know) -- waaaaah! waaaaah! fucki...more
Kirsten
oh dear, yes, he's observant and turns a pretty phrase on every page, makes you laugh, etc. but he's so contemptuous of everyone he comes across i lost interest. skipped all the trains between india and the soviet union. he really loses it at the end and addresses all the russians he meets on the trans siberian railway as monkeys. granted, i have now been in a similar situation, far from home in bleak surroundings at christmastime, like theroux on the trans siberian, homesick and irritated by ev...more
Kavita
The book is an account of a journey through Europe and Asia by train. The concept is good, and the author made a great journey, and has the gift of story telling. But the author himself comes across as a stupid, rude and horrible person who abuses random people, makes snide remarks, plays practical jokes on helpful locals, and in general appears quite slap-worthy.

He mostly behaves himself in the first half of the book, but on reaching Japan, he becomes a perfect pest. Giving away gifts that wou...more
Jenny (Reading Envy)
I started out liking this book, but the author started to grate on my nerves. He took an amazing trip on trains from Europe to Turkey to Iran through Asia including Thailand, Japan, and Siberia. For a large portion of his journey, he is following the "hippie trail," popular in the 1960s and 1970s for people traveling from England to India. But his tone and commentary on the people he meets were not always the kindest. In fact he seemed rather uninterested in talking to anyone who wasn't already...more
Shelley
This is one of those books on which I felt very eager and proud to stamp my book embosser -- "Library of Shelley." Whenever I have a strong urge to claim a book, to put my mark on it as it put its mark on me, I know I loved it.

This is the third Paul Theroux I have read this summer, and I think it's now safe to say that he is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors. The Great Railway Bazaar recounts his travels by train during the 1970's through Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Asia and then...more
Matt
Less a travel book and more a book about the physical act of travelling. Theroux has a refreshing lack of romance about the journey and the places he visits; most places are dirty, dull, unbearably hot or cold, and full of locals whose sole aim seems to be to rip him off. And although Theroux seems to enjoy very few of his stopovers, he feels compelled to travel and to sample these places. And as the book progresses, you feel the main aspect of the book change from a simple travel book to a more...more
Jeremy Allan
So Paul Theroux takes a trip from Paris to Japan and back, all on the railroad (with some minor air and sea deviations), seeing the world in all its sundry chaos on the way. I couldn't have been more excited to start this book when I did, being a lover of train travel (mostly without the opportunity to express that love), and curious about all these places he had visited--Afghanistan, Siberia, Vietnam, India, Singapore, many more--that I would like to visit and still have not had the chance. So...more
Tom
I love Paul Theroux and this, one his first is the one which set me off. I wanted to re-read it before reading his new book about taking the same trip across Europe and Asia some thirty years later.
In the early 70s which he writes about in this book there were no railways in Afghanistan and I'm pretty sure railways aren't a priority to this day but I'm looking forward to seeing how he crosses the country in the middle of the first decade of the 2000s.
Theroux is an author one either loves or hate...more
Katy Dickinson
From my February 5, 2007 blog
http://blogs.sun.com/katysblog/entry/...

The Great Railway Bazaar (by Paul Theroux)

I finished one book on the drive home and had to go to Border's for a new book to get me through dinner. I thus interrupted my current naval reading theme with the quick read of a famous and excellent travel book: The Great Railway Bazaar: by train through Asia by Paul Theroux (ISBN-10: 0618658947, originally published in 1975).

My husband and I have a work trip to Bangalore later this m...more
Reid
Whereas this appears on the surface to be the story of one man taking trains around Asia, it is more an exploration of Theroux's own internal wanderlust. It is also fascinating to today's readers since it was written in 1975 and so much has changed since then, though perhaps most insistent is the fact that so much has not.

It is a source of some head-scratching that Theroux generally eschews the investigation of any of the places he travels through, no matter how fascinating they may be. He has c...more
Judy
This probably should have five stars. It is gritty, meaty and pure Theroux. Apart from a hopeful start, there is nothing of the romance of travel except for one passage where, in Vietnam, the exquisite beauty of mountains, sky and ocean move the author to lyrical description. Rather, it is a chronicle of torrid conditions on overcrowded third-class carriages crammed with desperate humanity eating unspeakable food, alternated with, less frequently, weird fellow travellers sharing luxurious old co...more
Melissa
Aug 12, 2011 Melissa rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Melissa by: Chris Whitley
This book portrays how I feel about travel better than I can articulate. It shows all the effort, the trouble, the fear, the discomfort, the cost, the worry - all the unpleasantness about travel - but at the same time shows why people want to travel despite it all. Not that I would travel like Paul Theroux traveled to write this book. I don't think he would recommend it, either. I don't think he embarked on it for enjoyment and leisure as much as to see if he could do it - the equivalent of slog...more
Caleb
Just so we're clear from the beginning, Paul Theroux is a dick. Or a misanthrope or whatever else you want to call him. Now that we've got that behind us, this is one of the best books (and especially best travelogues) I have read. Written in 1975, Theroux traveled for four months by train from London across Europe, the Middle East, India, Southeast Asia to Japan, and then back to London along the 6000 mile Trans Siberian Railway. Theroux managed by luck to be in Iran just before the Shah fall,...more
AC
A great read -- no review here, but will comment when I've read (soon) Ghost Train..., which is The Great Railway Bazaar redux, 30 years later.
Lindsay Roberts
Mar 10, 2010 Lindsay Roberts is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
Allright, so I'm in the middle of the book so far, but so far my reactions, both positive and negative have been quite strong. Theroux's unabashed narrowness of mind (I guess 'misanthropic' would be a nicer way of saying that he's kind of an asshole) combined with sweeping statements like, "Afghans are lazy, idle, and violent" (87 in my 1979 Penguin edition) piss me off! I keep setting the book down in a huff, but his writing is so good that I find myself coming back to it a few days later.

The...more
Mike Rogers
Writer Paul Theroux goes on a rail journey that must be at least five times longer than the one I just completed. He starts in London and travels through Europe, Turkey, the Middle East, India, China, Japan and Russia. I disagree with Theroux's travel style, which seems to consist of taking the train just for the sake of taking the train. He spends little time in cities and towns along the route and spends most of the book describing the trains themselves and the people that ride them.

The best t...more
Molly
I dont think this book is entirely memorable in anyway, although I think it was really good at capturing the feeling of traveling (for travel nerds,anyway). while reading it I got the sense of the sort of vacant yet full-of-possibilities feeling that comes from directionless travel. this is an experience I value almost as much as the destination itself, because when else can you feel so unattached and unburdened as when your sole responsibility is to make it to some arbitrary destination in some...more
Quo
This is the book that began a sub-genre of travel writing, or so it seems. While there are many varieties of travel narratives, Paul Theroux in The Great Railway Bazaar takes the reader in a somewhat different direction, for this author's travel books are in many ways more self-reflective than they are descriptive of the places he is passing through. And with Theroux, there is always much more detail about the process of travel & about the passage through a country by train than about arriva...more
Lisa (Harmonybites)
May 05, 2013 Lisa (Harmonybites) rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Lisa (Harmonybites) by: The Ultimate Reading List
I’m told this is a benchmark in travel literature, a must read, but I couldn’t honestly rate this even three stars. It’s the kind of book that instead of causing you to yearn to see new places makes you want to stay at home. The book would seem to have all the ingredients of a classic; in print after 38 years, this is the account of Theroux’s travels by rail across Asia in the mid seventies, beginning with the Orient Express. Each chapter is named after a train taken: The Orient Express Direct,...more
Ensiform
The novelist and travel writer rides by train from France to Turkey (via the now-shabby Orient Express), through Pakistan, India, Thailand, Vietnam, Japan, Siberia, and back. This is an excellent read both for train lovers (whom the exotic trains Theroux rides will captivate) as well as readers who enjoy travelogues. To be fair, this is less a travelogue than a series of vignettes covering Theroux's journeys through various Asian countries. Theroux makes no attempt to develop an understanding of...more
Philip
When, some thirty years later, Paul Theroux repeated the journey that he had described in The Great Railway Bazaar, he declared travel writing to be ‘the lowest form of literary self-indulgence.’ His original journey in the early 1970s was a deliberate act, a ruse upon which to hang a book. The travel featured was nothing less than an occupation, whose sole product was to be collected and recorded experience. We, the readers, must thank him for his single-minded devotion to selfishness, for The...more
Elaine
Three stars. In some ways I feel unkind to Paul Theroux, but when I think of the books I've given 4 stars to they have entertained me far more or engaged me better. This book is undeniably well written and Theroux is an observant and entertaining chronicler of human behaviour and culture. I found parts of it much more interesting than other parts and at times wanted to put the book down for rather longer. He is better at describing people and their amusing conversations than making the long desc...more
Michael
Another Theroux book well worth the time. I don't really know why I had waited so long to read his most well-known (and important?) work. I found the chapters on India and Japan particularly fascinating.

I'm beginning to think I actually know Theroux. I think travel narratives have that effect on the reader: you see the good and bad, moments of cynicism and optimism. I look forward to reading his most recent work.

Interesting quote:

"... the Osaka suburbs filled me with such a sense of desolation...more
Emma
This is supposed to be a classic of the travelogue genre, but I have to admit, I did not like it.

I thought the tone was disrespectful of the people and differences the author met on his way.

More than that, the book was not even very entertaining or educational. There are very few interesting details, except when Theroux speaks about Singapore where he had lived before. Having used the train extensively in Europe myself, I know how many interesting people you can meet.

There was also too much focu...more
Shouri
I expected more from a book this popular. It has turned out to be an unfortunate choice for my first ever book on travel.

The writing is undistinguished and the book is composed almost entirely of the author’s mean impressions of everyone and every place he comes across. I always look for memorable sentences in a book and am unhappy to report that I can think of only two. He undoubtedly thinks himself superior to all the people he meets and proceeds to make fun of most of them in an unkind manner...more
Ayush
Aug 14, 2013 Ayush rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: nobody
I am half way down the book and am deeply disappointed. Mr Theroux's attitude towards people and his fellow travellers is that of disdain and contempt. He makes generalised statements about tamils, sinhalese,bengalis, burmese etc and seems to reinforce stereotypes If its meant to spark humour I am sorry i feel he fails to do so for me and is in bad taste.

He seems to view things from a higher pedestal, he seems to disdain and avoid company an impossibility for a traveller in Asia especially SE A...more
Jill
If Goodreads allowed half-stars, I probably would have rated this 1.5 stars. The Great Railway Bazaar is about Theroux's journey across Asia by train. Written in the 1970s, the book hasn't aged terribly well. I suppose in the 1970s, Theroux's impressions and fleeting observations about these faraway exotic places such as Ceylon, Burma, Pakistan, etc seemed terribly absorbing, fascinating and complex. 30 years later however, the Great Railway Bazaar reads like the glib wannabe scribblings of a co...more
Sam Still Reading
Feb 01, 2012 Sam Still Reading rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: railway fans
Recommended to Sam Still Reading by: part of the Popular Penguin series
The Popular Penguin series means that I’m always finding a new genre or author to try. This book is no exception – a railway journey from London to Asia and back through the USSR in the 1970s appealed to my love of Michael Palin’s travel books. Unlike Palin though, Theroux has no camera crew, just him and leaves his family for a solo tour. He does fly some of the time when there’s no other option, but the majority of the travel is taken on a variety of railway cars – from the old and dilapidated...more
David Bales
Paul Theroux's description of going to Asia by train from London in 1973; totally epic in scope, he gets on the Orient Express in Paris to Istanbul, and then travels through Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Burma, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, South Vietnam and Japan before winding it all up with week long trip to Moscow aboard the Trans-Siberian Railroad. This is a younger, more douchey, less politically-correct Theroux, who includes all of his failings, prejudices and fr...more
Nathaniel
A sarcastic, cynical guy from Massachusetts who likes riding on trains? Wow, that sounds oddly familiar.
The author hopped on a train in London and took trains where possible through Europe, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, India, Ceylon, Burma, Thailand, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, Japan, and Russia (I hope I didn't forget anywhere). He writes about what he sees and how each culture is reflected in its train network and stations. For example, Japan's trains were fast, clean, quiet, and stopped at...more
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Paul Edward Theroux is an American travel writer and novelist, whose best known work is The Great Railway Bazaar (1975), a travelogue about a trip he made by train from Great Britain through Western and Eastern Europe, the Middle East, through South Asia, then South-East Asia, up through East Asia, as far east as Japan, and then back across Russia to his point of origin. Although perhaps best know...more
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