Ghost Train to the Eastern Star is a rich tome of a book, an account of Paul Theroux’s retracing of the steps he took thirty years previously in The Great Railway Bazaar. As I don’t plan on finishing it for a while, I thought I’d check in with a brief update. I’m in Turkey at the moment, surrounded by pinarets and mosques, the prose of Theroux making me more and more itchy to visit the country myself. He’s also thrown me a couple of literary leads, by the names of Orhan Pamuk and Elif Shafak. He meets these two- as well as, apparently, Arthur C Clarke and Haruki Murakami in later chapters. It’s highbrow travel at its finest- the five star Ciragan Palas replacing the backpackers hostel, and Pamuk and Shafak, the leading lights of the Turkish literary scene replacing chance encounters with merchants, fellow backpackers and vagrants. Theroux does describe an encounter with a Ukrainian prostitute in this chapter- but the emphasis so far is on the rich description of the journey, and change. I particularly liked the way he deconstructed Pamuk- noting their similarities and differences while expouding on those universal qualities of a writer.
Well, I’m only on chapter two, and I can’t wait to get to the meeting with Murakami! I’ll save the chapter one material- of which there is much- for a concluding review, except to quote a couple of memorable passages here…
“Often on a trip, I seem to be alive in a hallucinatory vision of difference, the highly coloured unreality of foreigness, where I am vividly aware (as in most dreams) that I don’t belong; yet I am floating, an idle anonymous visitor among busy people, an utter stranger. When you’re strange, as the song goes, no one rememebers your name”
“Travel…holds the magical possibility of reinvention: that you might find a place you love, to begin a new life and never go home. In a distant place no one knows you- nearly always a plus.”
“An aimless joy is a pure joy” W. B. Yeats