FRESH AIR FIEND by Paul Theroux


Travel Writings


The prolific Theroux (Sir Vidia’s Shadow, 1998, etc.) gives full vent to his wanderlust in this virtuoso collection of travel

essays, all but one of which were written after his prior aggregation, Sunrise With Seamonsters (1984).

Like Thoreau, who is something of a kindred spirit, Theroux combines a flinty individualism verging on crankiness, a

curiosity about all manner of things, an almost pantheistic delight in nature, and a real grace of expression. Writing, he notes,

is "like digging a deep hole and not quite knowing what you are going to find, like groping in a dark well-furnished

room—surprises everywhere, and not just remarkable chairs but people murmuring in the weirdest postures." This description

is just as apt, however, for explaining how he approaches the travel genre. As well as anyone writing in this deceptively narrow

vein, Theroux understands how to filter the sights and sounds of such places as an African bush, the Yangtze River, or Christmas

Island through the prism of his own personality. Essays are grouped thematically in sections dealing with his reminiscences,

experiences as a kayaker and bicyclist, China, the Pacific, books of travel (by himself and others), profiles and appreciations of

other writers, "fugues" about bizarre practices of other cultures, and other places in Europe, Asia, and the US. Theroux can

assume all sorts of guises: reporter (sharp dissections of pre-Tiananmen Square China and pre-takeover Hong Kong), Boswell

to other writers similarly compelled to write about the world (Bruce Chatwin, Graham Greene), critic (a review of William Least

Heat-Moon’s PrairyErth), and lover of solitude (too numerous to mention). He can be scathingly funny on his Peace Corps

experiences, discerning on the rigors of polar exploration, clinical on illnesses he’s contracted on five different continents, and

lyrical on exotic lands threatened by commercialization.

A feast for both Theroux aficionados and those lucky enough to experience his distinctive world-view and evocative prose

for the first time. (Author tour)

Pub Date: May 8th, 2000
ISBN: 0-618-03406-4
Page count: 480pp
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 2000


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