The Old Patagonian Express: By Train Through the Americasby Paul Theroux
Yes, he is a curmudgeon – but I still love his books.
This one in particular fed into my wish to “someday” travel. I was a poor student who thought travel was only for the rich. I didn’t realize you could do it cheaply – if you don’t mind a few discomforts. It gave the information I needed to take journeys that expanded my world view.
The book reads like a diary of his travel from Boston to Tierra del Fuego, most of the time by train. Along the way he meets both ordinary & famous people – most of whom he dislikes. At the beginning of his train trip he meets a self-centered young woman who gives him a rundown of her dietary needs and “sensitivities.” She is a the first of many people who will annoy and confound him. He also manages to meet luminaries like Jorge Luis Borges. Even Borges doesn’t distract him from train” schedules”, breakdowns, people, and misunderstanding that – he thinks – exist only to thwart his enjoyment. He hates everyone and everything but manages to describe it all in hilarious prose.
I know many people dislike his grouchy persona – they wonder why he even travels. Give him a break – he is like one of those old – fashioned uncles (at least in literature) who fill your head with wonderful images of faraway places while complaining about the most trivial problems. You know he’s finicky, so all you take in is the wonder of discovering new places.
I will always love this book and Mr. Theroux for leading me out of small, Midwestern-town-USA. How else would I have found myself hitching a ride to Otoval market (ECUADOR) on top of a precarious truck carrying vegetables & chickens? Two Japanese sisters made the trip even more fun as we screamed & laughed all the way. It was the trip of a lifetime on a shoe string budget. Luckily I was young enough to ignore discomfort so that I could enjoy new vistas and people.
I will always keep my worn copy of this book. I give it 5 stars for inspiration, hilarity, and practical advice.