I tried to read this book as if it were a story. And it is a story, a little bit, in that it's about a guy who travels a great distance by train. But if you were expecting to learn a lot about that guy or if you were expecting the story to have any semblance of plot or development or denouement, you'd be sorely disappointed.
And so I was, until I started to enjoy the book at a leisurely pace, for what it was, and OK, I'll confess, mostly in the bathroom. Maybe the book works like train travel, slow, descriptive, but without too much access outside of that singular environment and with a small window looking out at the world.
Theroux has some real gems of description throughout, of the Eastern European countryside, of Turkey and its history, of riding through monsoon in Southeast Asia. But beyond that, it chugged along, and I was happy to stop and start and put it down and pick it up at my lazy convenience. The only time I couldn't put it down was when Theroux narrated the lives and stories of his fellow passengers, or when he got himself into various seedy misadventures in Thailand and Japan. The stories there are exciting, what can I say?
I started The Great Railway Bazaar when we started our travels through China, on the train ride from Shanghai to Hangzhou and through plane flights to Dali and through car rides to Lijiang, Shaxi, and back. I took the book to Shuang Lang and Moganshan, and finished a scifi book in the meanwhile. Finally, two months later, I'm done. I realized, a month too late, that I should have started with his book about train rides through China. I'm a bit exhausted, too tired out by detail, to begin another Theroux. But I will, soon.