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On Board The Ghost Train

On Board The Ghost Train

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In the 1970s, Paul Theroux embarked on a train trip across Europe and Asia, which he chronicled in The Great Railway Bazaar. Some 30 years later, he decided to retrace his footsteps. As Theroux notes in his introduction, few of the great travel writers have returned to the far-away cities, countries, and continents about which they wrote:

What traveler backtracked to take the great trip again? None of the good ones that I know. Greene never returned to the Liberian bush, nor to Mexico, nor to Vietnam. In his latest fifties, Waugh dismissed modern travel altogether as mere tourism and a waste of time. Thesiger did not return to the Marsh Arabs. Burton did not mount another expedition to Utah, or to substantiate the source of the Nile — at my age he was living in Trieste, immersed in erotica. Darwin never went to sea again. Neither did Joseph Conrad, who ended up hating the prospect of seafaring. Eric Newby went down the Ganges once, Jonathan Raban down the Mississippi once, and Jan Morris climbed Everest once. Robert Byron did not take the road to Oxiana again, Cherry-Garrard made only one trip to Antarctica, Chatwin never returned to Patagonia, nor did Doughty go back to Arabia Deserta, nor Wallace to the Malay Archipelago, nor Waterton to the Amazon, nor Trollope to the West Indies, nor Edward Lear to Corsica, nor Stevenson to the Cevennes, nor Chekhov to Sakhalin, nor Gide to the Congo, nor Canetti to Marrakesh, nor Jack London to the Solomon Islands, nor Mark Twain to Hawaii.

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For Theroux, the second trip proved to be more illuminating — and harder — than he expected it would be. (Reasons why his literary forebears did not retrace their footsteps, perhaps.) He chronicles the voyage in his new book, Ghost Train to the Eastern Star: On the Tracks of the Great Railway Bazaar.

What questions do you have for Paul Theroux? Did you read The Great Railway Bazaar? What did you think of it? Have you ever gone back and revisited a place you traveled to before? What was it like?