Literary Birthday: Paul Theroux

After graduating from college in 1963, Paul Theroux (born today in 1941) spent several years teaching in countries ranging from Singapore to Malawi before writing fiction, which often featured clueless Westerners getting in over their heads in foreign lands. Although some of his novels, like The Mosquito Coast (1981), met with success, it was not until Theroux turned his hand to travel writing that he became widely known. His first was The Great Railway Bazaar (1975).

A bestseller that inaugurated the modern travelogue genre, it recounted his four-month journey by train from Britain through Asia, partially on the Orient Express. Theroux spends more time describing his personal encounters than places he visits. At one point he strikes up a conversation with a sniffy British couple about Graham Greene’s new novel The Honorary Consul. “Graham sent me a copy,” the husband says off-handedly. “I always like seeing Graham,” the wife replies.

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