Book Review - To the Ends of the Earth by Paul Theroux
To the Ends of the Earth is a selection of Paul Theroux' writings from six of his previous books. I have been reading Mr. Theroux' books in reverse chronological order so all the material in this collection was new to me. I've often wondered about Mr. Theroux' formula. What drives him to travel through frightfully uncomfortable and bleak environments? The writer reflects on this in his introduction to the book. Alluding to his first work, The Great Railway Bazar, he says "It is often the case that only when someone asks you specific questions do you begin to think clearly about your intentions. In my mind this travel book had something to do with trains, but i had no idea where i wanted to go - only that it should be a long trip". The author's next trip, described in The Old Patagonian Express was inspired by nothing more than the desire to go on a journey. There was no destination, he wanted to take trains all the way to Patagonia and then turn back. I find these reflections invaluable.
The collection here is a trip around the world, the typical characters and places and the sometimes acidic style I've come to know and enjoy is evident from the beginning. I found the chapter on the author's meeting with Borges particularly surreal. I wondered if that was an accident? But no, it couldn't be. Great writing is deliberate. In the chapter we meet a large white cat, a blind Borges showing off his library and the author reading to the story writer. There is this memorable paragraph -
"The restaurant was around the corner-- I could not see it, but Borges knew the way. So the blind man led me walking down this Buenos Aires street with Borges was like being led through Alexandria by Cavafy , or through Lahore by Kipling. The city beloved to him, and he had a hand in inventing it"
The author's experience with Borges reminded me of his account of meeting Paul Bowles in Tangiers, narrated in Pillars of Hercules.
The author's stated ambition when this book was published was to "complete a shelf of travel books, which, between bookends, will encompass the world". In a minor way, that goal is accomplished within the covers of To the Ends of the Earth. Highly recommended.
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