2008.08.21: August 21, 2008: Headlines: Figures: COS - Malawi: Writing - Malawi: CNN: Paul Theroux -- beekeeper, tomato gardener, prolific author, father of two now married for a second time -- smiles, then laughs. He will soon descend the stairs of his writing house, walk at ease across the grounds and sit for lunch on the patio in back of the main house

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Malawi: Special Report: RPCV Paul Theroux: Paul Theroux: Newest Stories: 2008.08.21: August 21, 2008: Headlines: Figures: COS - Malawi: Writing - Malawi: CNN: Paul Theroux -- beekeeper, tomato gardener, prolific author, father of two now married for a second time -- smiles, then laughs. He will soon descend the stairs of his writing house, walk at ease across the grounds and sit for lunch on the patio in back of the main house

By Admin1 (admin) (70.135.11.140) on Friday, August 22, 2008 - 11:01 am: Edit Post

Paul Theroux -- beekeeper, tomato gardener, prolific author, father of two now married for a second time -- smiles, then laughs. He will soon descend the stairs of his writing house, walk at ease across the grounds and sit for lunch on the patio in back of the main house

Paul Theroux -- beekeeper, tomato gardener, prolific author, father of two now married for a second time -- smiles, then laughs. He will soon descend the stairs of his writing house, walk at ease across the grounds and sit for lunch on the patio in back of the main house

Asked if he wished he lived in a different time, or a different place, Theroux says he already has. He notes that the United States in the 1950s had around 150 million people, half of today's population. "That was another age," he says. "It didn't look like this, it didn't smell like this. It wasn't as crowded as this. ... At night the roads were totally empty, it was like 'The Twilight Zone,' going through the darkness." Author Paul Theroux served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Malawi in the 1960's.

Paul Theroux -- beekeeper, tomato gardener, prolific author, father of two now married for a second time -- smiles, then laughs. He will soon descend the stairs of his writing house, walk at ease across the grounds and sit for lunch on the patio in back of the main house

Celebrated author looks back at life through travel

CAPE COD, Massachusetts (AP) -- Even seekers of the world need a return address, or two, and Paul Theroux has settled well between the Hawaii home where he raises honeybees and this scenic retreat that allows him room to grow tomatoes, swim, play bocce ball and organize his memories from across the time zones.
Theroux

Paul Theroux prizes isolation and the novelty of traveling off the beaten path.

"For me to write, I need certain conditions, one of quiet, isolation, not a city," says Theroux, a former London resident who has since escaped the "car alarms, police alarms, voices, laughter, radios" and other music of metropolitan life.

"I was born not far from here, so this weather is familiar. I like the weather, I like the growing season. It's a good place to work. It's really pleasant. When I'm not here, I think about it."

Theroux, known for such travel works as "Sailing Through China" and novels such as "The Mosquito Coast," bought this 5-acre estate in the early 1980s, restoring a "wreck" of a main house out of red cedar pine, then adding a guest house, writing cottage, children's playhouse, along with a tiled swimming pool, bocce court and a pebble walkway that winds like a brook throughout.

He has the inevitable collectibles of world travel -- masks, carvings and paintings -- but when he does sit and speak, it's not on an exotic stool, but a pale, green armchair in his writing house that could have been purchased at a local yard sale.

"He's a genuinely enthusiastic traveler with his feet on the ground," says Martin Dunford, a co-founder of the Rough Guide travel books. "He sees places for what they are."

It's a muggy morning on the Cape and Theroux, 67, is dressed for leisure, in a polo shirt and shorts and Boston Red Sox cap. He sips from a mug of green tea, talking of home, abroad and fellow authors. His voice is a kind of shuttle express between New England Brahmin and British pub, his face round and strong, his eyes dark and plaintive, suggesting yearning and regret, a kind of anxious curiosity.

As he works on a new novel, set in India, and plans his first-ever trip to Scandinavia, Theroux has also been thinking about the past, returning to the route of his breakthrough book, "The Great Railway Bazaar," and finding that looking back is a way of catching up. In "Ghost Train to the Eastern Star," just published, Theroux retraces his famous train ride from Europe to Asia and back. The idea came from a recent work, "Dark Star Safari," in which he revisited the African countries he had lived in during the 1960s.

"I realized how much was revealed -- everything is revealed -- its political realities, economic realities, its human condition, how I felt about a place in the past and how I feel now," he says.

"With that trip, I felt such a continuous sense of discovery, self-discovery and discovery. I thought maybe the ultimate in this would be to take the same trip again, a trip that had meant a lot to me in 1973."

Published in 1975, "The Great Railway Bazaar" was a grounded, inquisitive, somewhat grumpy ride from India and Iran to Siberia ("The sort of place that gives rise to the notion that the Earth is flat") to Vietnam, then still very much at war, although with a functioning office of tourism. He covered thousands of miles, mostly by train. "Anything is possible on a train," he wrote, "a great meal, a binge, a visit from card players, an intrigue, a good night's sleep, and strangers' monologues framed like Russian short stories."

"Railway Bazaar" was completed under crisis. His earlier works had sold modestly, his then-wife had a lover. He was in exile from his own life and from the whole travel genre. "I wanted to put in everything that I found lacking in the other books -- dialogue, characters, discomfort," he later wrote.

Bob Shacochis, an acclaimed novelist and travel writer, calls Theroux "the godfather of modern American travel writers," an inspiration to Pico Iyer, Tom Bissell and others, and a pioneer of the type of writing found in the Rough Guide and Lonely Planet books.

"Everything opened up after 'The Great Railway Bazaar,' " says Shacochis, citing the rise of inexpensive airfare and the end of the Vietnam War as catalysts for international travel. "And Theroux happened to be there at the start, saying, 'I'm opening up the door to this wanderlust in the American soul.' "

Born in Medford, Massachusetts, one of seven siblings, Theroux says he took up traveling because in a "large family you're always trying to make your mark." Medford itself, a colonial-era city just outside of Boston, wasn't worth returning to on paper or in person. Theroux's literary heroes were Graham Greene, Mark Twain, Joseph Conrad -- writers who traveled and were inspired by travel.

"I never saw myself as someone like Faulkner, who was writing about his home, the people he knew at home, his patch of landscape," he says. "I never really felt that writing about Medford, Massachusetts, had a future."

A graduate of the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, he took off in 1963 for Africa with a young man's purpose, to find a better place, to get away not just from his family, but from a country mourning the assassination of President Kennedy and committing itself fatefully to the Vietnam War.

He joined the Peace Corps and taught in Malawi, but his ideals were not the ideals of those in power. Theroux was thrown out of the country, and out of the Peace Corps, for helping a political dissident flee to Uganda. The author himself ended up in Uganda, running a rural studies program, but left after four years when a mob attacked Theroux and his pregnant wife. After teaching in Singapore, he moved to London in the early 1970s and lived there for a decade.

Since his first novel, "Waldo," published in 1967, he has written more than 40 books, including autobiographical fiction such as "My Secret History" and "My Other Life," and travel books about Africa, Central America and the Mediterranean. He is also known for a scandalous memoir, "Sir Vidia's Shadow," about his former friend and mentor, Nobel laureate V.S. Naipaul, whom Theroux portrayed as comically boorish and self-absorbed.

Theroux has strong opinions about travel writing. He dislikes the "What I Did Last Summer" style of traveling, or authors who simply take to the road for the sake of a book. He prefers to travel alone, by train, to places where no tourist would think of going.

Shacochis calls it "a kind of one-upmanship on the way everyone else travels -- museums bad, slums good; solitude good, companions bad; airlines bad, railways good. It is a code and he's very strict about it, and sometimes it seems so strict that I'm a little puzzled about the notion of purity it creates."

He once looked for Utopia, now he simply wants to know how we're getting on. In "Ghost Train," he finds the so-called boom of India a fraud, built on cheap labor and senseless development. "The longer I stayed in Bangalore the less I liked it," he writes of one of India's largest cities. "The place had not evolved; it had been crudely transformed -- less city planning than the urban equivalent of botched cosmetic surgery."

Singapore, his former home, is "a place without solitude. Cameras everywhere, snitches, too." Japan, he reasons, is the "likeliest solution to survival in an overcrowded world -- an almost robotic obedience, decorum, rigidity, order with no frills."

Asked if he wished he lived in a different time, or a different place, Theroux says he already has. He notes that the United States in the 1950s had around 150 million people, half of today's population.

"That was another age," he says. "It didn't look like this, it didn't smell like this. It wasn't as crowded as this. ... At night the roads were totally empty, it was like 'The Twilight Zone,' going through the darkness."

He loves books in a way few love them anymore. In the main house, he keeps extensive volumes of Henry James, Dickens and Twain, along with framed pictures of Nabokov, Greene and Robert Louis Stevenson. In Theroux's writing study, he has books by such favored writers as Jorge Luis Borges and Elias Canetti and maintains an up-to-date collection by Naipaul, whom he still follows from a distance.

Theroux acknowledges that a great writer doesn't have to be a good person. In fact, he doubts that it's possible. Writers, he says, are by nature "unbalanced." And Paul Theroux does not count himself among those who have kept the scales even.

"Obviously not," he says. "Otherwise, why have I written, as I have, there's some emptiness or disorder that one's trying to fill or find an order in? If you look into history, you won't find many jolly, well-balanced people who were writers. I mean, look at them.

"In a way, you can't be a writer unless you have sort of a personality problem. Balanced people don't become writers, obviously. Balanced people become gardeners, they raise happy families, they go to work every day, they smile. They have noodle salad."

Theroux -- beekeeper, tomato gardener, prolific author, father of two now married for a second time -- smiles, then laughs. He will soon descend the stairs of his writing house, walk at ease across the grounds and sit for lunch on the patio in back of the main house, where the entree is not noodle salad, but a healthy plate of sushi.




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