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Paul Theroux keeps Lifelong friends from Peace Corps

Paul Theroux keeps Lifelong friends from Peace Corps

When Theroux graduated from University of Massachusetts at Amherst, he joined the Peace Corps and became a teacher from 1965 to 1967 in Malawi, a far-flung country in central Africa (once called Nyasaland). There, he made lifelong friends with fellow teachers. Every summer between twelve and fifteen of them come for a reunion at his home in Sandwich. This year they arrived in mid-July. "They love coming to the Cape because it doesn't change. To their delight, there are no fast food places in Sandwich. Since they come from Mexico, California, Georgia, Louisiana, and D.C., it is refreshing to find this kind of zoning to preserve the surroundings. They have become a mutual support group. It used to be that we did a lot of beer drinking, but now some have died and divorced. It is a big event for all of us to keep current with each other. Among other things, we play an Italian game of bowls, called ‘Bocce' (pronounced ‘Bachee'). I found an Italian priest at a church on Route 151 who had a design for the court and I found someone in Falmouth to copy it. My buddies and I play and talk. We usually make a trip to Martha's Vineyard." Author Paul Theroux served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Malawi in the 1960's.

Paul Theroux keeps Lifelong friends from Peace Corps

Famous Author Resides Incognito in Sandwich

Paul Theroux loves the soul of Cape Cod

By Libby Hughes, Cape Cod Today

Paul Theroux entrained researching the Ghost Train to the Eastern Star.

"Cape Cod has kept its soul," said renowned author Paul Theroux of Sandwich and Hawaii. "Where there is over-development, perhaps the Cape has lost its soul." Theroux has been coming to the Cape every summer since 1970. Because he grew up in Medford, Massachusetts, his parents often visited the Cape when he was a boy. In fact, his 97-year-old mother is still a lively woman and lives in West Dennis and proudly reads her son's books.

Lifelong friends from Peace Corps

When Theroux graduated from University of Massachusetts at Amherst, he joined the Peace Corps and became a teacher from 1965 to 1967 in Malawi, a far-flung country in central Africa (once called Nyasaland). There, he made lifelong friends with fellow teachers. Every summer between twelve and fifteen of them come for a reunion at his home in Sandwich. This year they arrived in mid-July.

"They love coming to the Cape because it doesn't change. To their delight, there are no fast food places in Sandwich. Since they come from Mexico, California, Georgia, Louisiana, and D.C., it is refreshing to find this kind of zoning to preserve the surroundings. They have become a mutual support group. It used to be that we did a lot of beer drinking, but now some have died and divorced. It is a big event for all of us to keep current with each other. Among other things, we play an Italian game of bowls, called ‘Bocce' (pronounced ‘Bachee'). I found an Italian priest at a church on Route 151 who had a design for the court and I found someone in Falmouth to copy it. My buddies and I play and talk. We usually make a trip to Martha's Vineyard."

Over thirty years after The Great Railway Bazaar (above), his seminal travelogue on India, Paul Theroux reprises his journey in the Ghost Train to the Eastern Star (below).

Living outside the 48 states

Paul Theroux has lived outside the borders of the 48 states for decades. "I fell in love with an English woman and we lived in England for twenty years and then parted ways. I moved to Hawaii and married a woman from there," he stated. Perhaps that explains the hint of a British accent entwined with his Massachusetts brogue. He recalled going to high school in Medford and being in boy scouts with Michael Bloomberg.

Fiction versus non-fiction

Theroux's oeuvre includes 27 books of fiction, 15 books of non-fiction, and a book of literary criticism. "I am happiest in fiction where it doesn't have to be factual, but exists in the imagination-speculation. A travel book is outside yourself and fiction is within the writer. When I travel, I go alone because I would be boring company. I read or write or talk to people all the time. On the Trans-Siberian Railway, there are eight long days of looking out the window. I needed a project. I wrote three novellas, called ‘The Elephant Suite.' Then I wrote a memoir about my father who died in 1995. It took me a long time before I could write it."

His latest travel book

In the latter part of September, Theroux begins an eleven city book tour to launch his latest book, "A Ghost Train to the Eastern Star," which retraces his 28,000 mile journey by train from "The Great Railway Bazaar," written 33 years ago and placed him on the map as a best-selling author. The trip started in London, landed him in Japan, and returned him to Europe on the Trans-Siberian Railroad. "When I think that Barack Obama and Senator John McCain have been on the campaign trail for 19 months with only a week's vacation, I can't complain," he said.

Emotional scars

Emotional scars still linger from the trip he took for "The Great Railway Bazaar." While he was away for three and a half months, his wife took a lover. Jealousy and anger drove him to write the book in an emotional fury when he returned home. References appear in both books about the incident. On the first trip he was homesick, but on the second one, which took seven months, but was divided into two trips because of an operation, he was never homesick. A good relationship with his second wife may have been part of it. He also had a Blackberry to text message her when there were network connections.

Biggest changes in Vietnam

"When I was in Vietnam in 1973, the war was still raging. The railway tracks had land mines and bombs were detonated along the road--not unlike Iraq. The Vietnamese lost more than three million troops, compared to our 58,000. Seven million tons of bombs were dropped on them along with 20 million tons of agent orange, causing untold devastation. Yet, today they are a productive and thriving nation. Once President Clinton lifted embargo sanctions on Vietnam in 1994, they prospered. They don't forget what we did to them, but they forgive."

Country with no change

"Burma has not changed since 1973. It is still a military dictatorship. China could have helped, but didn't during the recent cyclone devastation. America offered to send aid, but it was refused. There is a direct road to Burma from China's Kumming. They could easily have helped. Burma or Myanmar is very much like North Korea. Ang San Sui Ki, who was democratically elected, was put in prison and will probably stay there because neither the dictatorship nor China cares."

"I was not surprised that the Russians rolled into Georgia. They had cut off electricity to the Georgian people in the past. The people of Georgia are Russophobic. They thought we would help them and humiliate the Russians. But we have soldiers everywhere."

Democratic Georgia
"I was not surprised that the Russians rolled into Georgia. They had cut off electricity to the Georgian people in the past. The people of Georgia are Russophobic. They thought we would help them and humiliate the Russians. But we have soldiers everywhere and are too stretched to help them. All we can do is talk. Not many people know that Gori in Georgia is the birthplace of Joseph Stalin," Theroux said.

Most memorable incident
"In Burma I returned to a hotel where I stayed in 1973 to find the hotel was run by the son of an 80-year-old man who had befriended me. He was so happy that I wrote about him in my book. Also, in Singapore where I had taught English Literature, I enjoyed renewing connections. Another highlight was meeting Turkey's national writer, Orhan Pamuk. He's a wonderful fellow. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature and is charismatic."

Style changes in 33 years?
Theroux was reluctant to analyze his writing. He revealed his pattern of note-taking. "On the first trip, I wrote in four 9 by 12 notebooks. On the second trip, I filled seven notebooks. It took 8 or 10 months to write the 496 pages for"A Ghost Train to the Eastern Star," but two and a half years altogether."

For this reviewer, the style of writing for "The Great Railway Bazaar" seems choppier and a cross between Marcel Proust and William Faulkner. "A Ghost Train to the Eastern Star" seems smoother and mellower with deeper observations. He shows us the scenery through his words and lets us see the seamier side of cities as well as the glamorous side. We rock with him in his iron cradle of trains and visualize all the people he meets along the way. He confesses that with age and maturity, he no longer feels invisible or like a ghost. With all his aversion to large cities, he is considering an apartment in the exciting city of New York.

The style is not like anyone else's. It is definitely Paul Theroux. By the way, two grown sons are also writers. Louis Theroux has a TV show and Marcel Theroux has written three novels.

(This was a 40 minute telephone interview on Sept. 2, 2008)




Links to Related Topics (Tags):

Headlines: September, 2008; RPCV Paul Theroux (Malawi); Figures; Peace Corps Malawi; Directory of Malawi RPCVs; Messages and Announcements for Malawi RPCVs; Writing - Malawi





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Story Source: Cape Cod Today

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; Figures; COS - Malawi; Writing - Malawi

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