This is Theroux’s attempt to retrace the route of his first travel book, The Great Railway Bazaar. In his earlier trip, in 1973, he traveled mostly by train from Europe, across southern Asia, to Viet Nam and beyond. He had been unable to travel to Laos and Cambodia because of the war - an omission that he repaired on his more recent journey. This time, however, he was not able to travel in Afghanistan, Iraq, or Iran, for obvious reasons.
I found the book fascinating. Theroux is not afraid to state his opinions of people and places, and has a traveler’s attitude of valuing the journey over the destination. He is not fond of cities and crowded places, and reserved special scorn for Singapore - micro-managed, repressive, a society of money-grubbing scolds seeking approval from above and heaping shit on their neighbors. India was also a mostly unpleasant experience for him (‘too many people’ as many others told him when he asked them about their experience in India).
His travels brought him through many very repressive places: Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Burma especially. But in each place he found the people that he met to be mostly friendly, kind, and helpful.
This is a book that will make you want to travel to some of the places he visited. Turkey, Vietnam, and northern Japan stand out in that regard. I never before wanted to travel to Vietnam, but I do now. It is gratifying to know that after so many years of colonial occupation and war, that Vietnam has prospered and has preserved the best of its past, despite the US embargo that was not lifted until 1994. Of course, there is still political repression in Vietnam, but the daily life of the people there seems to be quite satisfactory.
I’m looking forward to reading more of Theroux’s travel books.