not merely superfluous, but ridiculous
this post was originally published on my Goodreads account.
I’ve not read much travel literature, so I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect from this. What I got was a book that effectively reflects the experience of long travel in distant locations. In retrospect, it would have been reasonable to expect that.
Theroux is obviously a good writer, and is able to capture the humor and pathos of his brief interactions with passengers on the various railway lines he takes around Europe and Asia. I appreciate his honesty about the minor insults and major discomforts of travel, his irrational hatred of certain locales, his baffled reactions to the people he meets on the way.
I peeked at a few Goodreads reviews, and was surprised by how many people hated this aspect of the book, because it struck them as the first-world grievances of a privileged white man. Presumably, they believe Theroux would have been better off regarding his surroundings with undiscriminating awe, limiting his observations to a list of the things he found interesting and beautiful. I suppose such readers will have to content themselves with the likes of Eat, Pray, Love for entertainment, but I personally appreciated Theroux’s willingness to speak honestly about even the petty complaints of travel, the part of every tourist that notes with disappointment the smallness of the Mona Lisa, or the stench surrounding the Taj Mahal. Of course, the reviewers’ complaint is not that Theroux is too honest about his feelings, but that he is insensitive enough to have those feelings in the first place. But until that glorious day when everyone has sufficiently checked his privilege to wander the world in a state of unskeptical, unthinking, unconscious wonder at the variegated beauty of life in all its forms and expressions, it’s nice to have a guide who can gripe about luggage compartments in an amusing manner.