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Paul Theroux

Paul Theroux in 2008.
Born 10 April 1941 (1941-04-10) (age 68)
Medford, Massachusetts
Occupation Novelist, Travel writer, short story writer, literary critic
Nationality American
Period 1967-

Paul Edward Theroux (born April 10, 1941) is an American travel writer and novelist, whose best known work is, perhaps, The Great Railway Bazaar (1975), a travelogue about a trip he made by train from the United Kingdom through Western and Eastern Europe, the Middle East, through South Asia, then South-East Asia, up through East Asia, as far east as Japan, and then back across Russia to his point of origin. Although perhaps best known as a travel writer, Theroux has also published numerous works of fiction, some of which were made into feature films. He was awarded the 1981 James Tait Black Memorial Prize for his novel The Mosquito Coast. He is also the father of British authors and documentary makers Louis Theroux and Marcel Theroux, and the brother of authors Alexander Theroux and Peter Theroux.



Theroux was born in Medford, Massachusetts, the son of Catholic parents, a French-Canadian father and an Italian mother. He was a Boy Scout and ultimately achieved the rank of Eagle Scout. After he finished his university education at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, he joined the Peace Corps and taught in Malawi from 1963 to 1965. While there, he helped a political opponent of Hastings Banda escape to Uganda, for which he was expelled from Malawi and thrown out of the Peace Corps. He then moved to Uganda to teach at Makerere University, where he wrote for the magazine Transition (including the article "Nkrumah the Leninist Czar").

While at Makerere, Theroux began his three-decade friendship with novelist V. S. Naipaul, then a visiting scholar at the university. During his time in Uganda, an angry mob at a demonstration threatened to overturn the car in which his pregnant wife was riding. This incident may have contributed[citation needed] to his decision to leave Africa. He moved again to Singapore. After two years of teaching at the University of Singapore, he settled in England, first in Dorset, and then in south London with his wife and two young children.

Theroux currently resides in Hawaii and Cape Cod, Massachusetts, U.S.A.[1] He is currently married to Sheila Donnelly (since November 18, 1995). Previously, he was married to Anne Castle from 1967 to 1993. He has two sons with his first wife – Marcel Theroux and Louis Theroux – both of whom are writers and television presenters. In his books, Theroux alludes to his ability to speak Italian, French, Spanish, Chinese, Chichewa, and Swahili.

Literary work

His first novel, Waldo, was published during his time in Uganda and was moderately successful. He published several more novels over the next few years, including Fong and the Indians and Jungle Lovers. On his return to Malawi many years later, he found that this latter novel, which was set in that country, was still banned, a story told in his book Dark Star Safari.

He moved to London in 1972, before setting off on an epic journey by train from Great Britain to Japan and back again. His account of this journey was published as The Great Railway Bazaar, his first major success as a travel writer, and which has since become a classic in the genre.[2][3] He has since written a number of other travel books, including descriptions of traveling by train from Boston to Argentina (The Old Patagonian Express), walking around the United Kingdom (the poorly-received The Kingdom By The Sea), kayaking in the South Pacific (The Happy Isles Of Oceania), visiting China (Riding the Iron Rooster), and traveling from Cairo to Cape Town (Dark Star Safari). As a traveler he is noted for his rich descriptions of people and places, laced with a heavy streak of irony, or even misanthropy. Other non-fiction by Theroux includes Sir Vidia's Shadow, an account of his personal and professional friendship with Nobel laureate V. S. Naipaul that ended abruptly after thirty years.


By including versions of himself, his family, and acquaintances in some of his fiction, Theroux has occasionally disconcerted his readers. "A. Burgess, Slightly Foxed: Fact and Fiction", a story originally published in The New Yorker magazine (August 7, 1995), describes a dinner at the narrator's home with author Anthony Burgess and a book-hoarding philistine lawyer who nags the narrator for an introduction to the great writer. “Burgess” arrives drunk and cruelly mocks the lawyer, who introduces himself as “a fan”. The narrator’s wife is named Anne and she shrewishly refuses to help with the dinner. The magazine later published a letter from Anne Theroux denying that Burgess was ever a guest in her home and expressing admiration for him, having once interviewed the real Burgess for the BBC: “I was dismayed to read in your August 7th edition a story … by Paul Theroux, in which a very unpleasant character with my name said and did things that I have never said or done.”[4] When the story was incorporated into Theroux’s novel, My Other Life (1996), the wife character is renamed Alison and reference to her work at the BBC is excised.

Theroux's sometimes caustic portrait of Nobel Laureate V.S. Naipaul in his memoir Sir Vidia's Shadow (1998) contrasts with his earlier, gushing portrait of the same author in V.S. Naipaul, an Introduction to His Work (1972); events in their relationship over the 26 years between the two books colored the perspective of the later book.

On December 15, 2005 the New York Times published an op-ed piece by Theroux called "The Rock Star's Burden" criticizing Bono, Brad Pitt, and Angelina Jolie as "mythomaniacs, people who wish to convince the world of their worth." Theroux, who lived in Africa as a Peace Corps Volunteer and a university teacher, adds that "the impression that Africa is fatally troubled and can be saved only by outside help - not to mention celebrities and charity concerts - is a destructive and misleading conceit.".[5]

However, in 2002, on publication of his Africa travelogue Dark Star Safari, reviewer John Ryle in the London Guardian contradicted Theroux's views on international aid, accusing him of ignorance. "I'm not an aid worker, but I was working in Kenya myself at about the time Theroux passed through ... It's not that Theroux is wrong to criticise the empire of aid. In some ways the situation is even worse than he says ... The problem is that Theroux knows next to nothing about it. Aid is a failure, he says, because 'the only people dishing up the food and doling out the money are foreigners. No Africans are involved'. But the majority of employees of international aid agencies in Africa, at almost all levels, are Africans. In some African countries it is international aid agencies that provide the most consistent source of employment ... The problem is not, as Theroux says, that Africans are not involved; it is, if anything, the opposite. How come he didn't notice this? Because, despite his hissy fits about white people in white cars who won't give him lifts, he never actually visits an aid project or the office of an aid organisation."[6] Despite being a self-described "angry and agitated young man" in his early twenties when he felt had to escape the confines of Massachusetts and a hostile U.S. foreign policy, he admits having "the disposition of a hobbit" and remains optimistic about most of his subject matter. "I need happiness in order to write well...being depressed merely produces depressing literature in my case", he explains (speaking during a live interview by CBC Radio presenter Eleanor Wachtel on stage at the 30th International Festival of Authors, Toronto, October 25, 2009)

A Dead Hand: A Crime in Calcutta includes portraits of Anthony Weller = Jerry Delfont and Anthony Weller's wife Kylee Smith = Merrill Unger. See George Weller and First Into Nagasaki.

Select awards and honours


Film adaptations

Novels and short story collections

  • Waldo (1967)
  • Fong And The Indians (1968)
  • Murder In Mount Holly (1969)
  • Girls At Play (1971)
  • Jungle Lovers
  • Sinning With Annie (short stories, 1972)
  • Saint Jack (1973)
  • The Black House (1974)
  • The Family Arsenal (1976)
  • The Consul's File (linked short stories, 1977)
  • Picture Palace (1978)
  • A Christmas Card
  • London Snow
  • World's End (short stories, 1980)
  • The Mosquito Coast (1981)
  • The London Embassy (linked short stories, 1982)
  • Doctor Slaughter (1984) – filmed as Half Moon Street (1986)
  • O-Zone (1986)
  • The White Man's Burden (1987)
  • My Secret History (1989)
  • Chicago Loop (1990)
  • Millroy the Magician (1993)
  • The Greenest Island (1995)
  • My Other Life (1996)
  • Kowloon Tong (1997)
  • Hotel Honolulu
  • Stranger At The Palazzo D'Oro (novellas and short stories)
  • Blinding Light (2006)
  • The Elephanta Suite (three novellas, 2007)
  • A Dead Hand: A Crime in Calcutta (2009)


Other Writings Including Magazine Articles

Upcoming projects

Following Michael Jackson's sudden tragic death, Paul is also reported to be working on a book detailing his friendship with Michael Jackson (although, no title is known at this point). An excerpt can be found at the U.K. Telegraph.

Notes and references

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Paul Edward Theroux (born April 10, 1941) is an American travel writer and novelist.



  • Fiction gives us a second chance that life denies us.
    • New York Times (July 28, 1976)
  • Travel is glamorous only in retrospect.
    • Observer (London, October 7, 1979)
  • The realization that he is white in a black country, and respected for it, is the turning point in the expatriate’s career. He can either forget it, or capitalize on it. Most choose the latter.
    • Tarzan Is an Expatriate, quoted in Patrick Marnham's Dispatches from Africa, ch. 1 (1981)
  • “Mustn’t grumble” was the most English of expressions. English patience was mingled inertia and despair. What was the use? But Americans did nothing but grumble! Americans also boasted. "I do some pretty incredible things” was not an English expression. "I’m fairly keen" was not American. Americans were showoffs — it was part of our innocence — we often fell on our faces; the English seldom showed off, so they seldom looked like fools.
    • The Kingdom by the Sea: A Journey Around Great Britain, ch. 1 (1983)
  • I have always disliked being a man. The whole idea of manhood in America is pitiful, in my opinion. This version of masculinity is a little like having to wear an ill-fitting coat for one's entire life (by contrast, I imagine femininity to be an oppressive sense of nakedness).
    • "Being a Man" (1983), from Sunrise with Seamonsters: Travels and Discoveries, 1964-84 (Houghton Mifflin, 1986, ISBN 0-395-41501-2, 384 pages), p. 309
  • Hawaii is not a state of mind, but a state of grace.
    • Observer (London, October 29, 1989)
  • Death is an endless night so awful to contemplate that it can make us love life and value it with such passion that it may be the ultimate cause of all joy and all art.
    • Hockney’s Alphabet, D is for Death, ed. Stephen Spender (1991)
    • Book published to raise money for AIDS victims.
  • Animal lovers often tend to be misanthropes or loners, and so they transfer their affection to the creature in their control.
  • Assigning human personalities to animals is the chief trait of the pet owner—the doting dog-lover with his baby talk, the smug stay-at-home with a fat lump of fur on her lap who says, "Me, I'm a cat person," and the granny who puts her nose against the tin cage and makes kissing noises at her parakeet. Their affection is often tinged with a sense of superiority. Deer and duck hunters never talk this way about their prey, though big game hunters— Hemingway is the classic example — often sentimentalize the creatures they blow to bits and then lovingly stuff to hang on the wall.
    • Living With Geese
  • Fogeydom is the last bastion of the bore and reminiscence is its anthem. It is futile to want the old days back, but that doesn't mean one should ignore the lessons of the visitable past.

The Great Railway Bazaar (1975)

  • Extensive traveling induces a feeling of encapsulation, and travel, so broadening at first, contracts the mind.
    • Ch. 21
  • The Japanese have perfected good manners and made them indistinguishable from rudeness.
    • Ch. 28
  • I sought trains; I found passengers.
    • Ch. 1

The Old Patagonian Express (1979)

  • You define a good flight by negatives: you didn’t get hijacked, you didn’t crash, you didn’t throw up, you weren’t late, you weren’t nauseated by the food. So you are grateful.
  • You must not judge people by their country. In South America, it is always wise to judge people by their altitude.

Fresh Air Fiend (2000)

  • In many ways connection has been disastrous. We have confused information (of which there has been too much of)with ideas (of which there are too few. I found out much more about the world and myself by being unconnected.
  • Even the most distant and exotic place has its parallel in ordinary life.
  • You have to find out for yourself. Take the leap. Go as far as you can. Try staying out of touch. Become a stranger in a strange land. Acquire humility. Learn the language. Listen to what people are saying.

External links

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