Ghost Train to the Eastern Star is one of Paul Theroux's finest travel books. It represents a redux, and technically, it's better than the book that inspired it, his own The Great Railway Bazaar, the travelogue that made him famous and set the standard for the genre. Ghost Train is certainly more mature, more polished, and more analytical (take his devastating commentary on Singapore, for example, or Pol Pot, or his interviews with various world writers). Yet, for some inexplicable reason, The Great Railway Bazaar remains superior, or at least "fresher" and certainly more fun.
Not that it really matters, because this is Paul Theroux we're talking about, the godfather of modern-day travel writing. In the genre, there's not a single writer who even comes close. Comparing Ghost Train to the Eastern Star, The Pillars of Hercules, The Happy Isles of Oceania, Kingdom by the Sea, The Old Patagonian Express, and The Great Railway Bazaar is sort of like comparing gemstones; they all shine, whereas Riding the Riding the Iron Rooster and Dark Star Safari are merely very good. Theroux is now in his seventies and one wonders if this isn't his travel-lit coda. I hope not, but the guy can't go on writing forever, something he hints at in this book. What a talent Paul Theroux is, and what a good time it can be to simulate foreign travel with one of his books from the comfort of home. People who say Theroux is misanthropic or judgmental are completely missing the point. He's a bit arrogant maybe, but a little arrogance is necessary if you're going to make a career from the pen, something very few can do these days.
Troy Parfitt is the author of Why China Will Never Rule the World