"Why spend so much time traveling by train?" a friend asked when I said I was planning a rail journey through Europe. "What's the point?" One reason, according to Theroux, is that train travel animates the imagination and provides the solitude to order one's thoughts; it can be stimulating, relaxing, and sometimes monotonous.
I picked up The Great Railway Bazaar for inspiration in writing my own travel journal. It provides some excellent descriptions of places: Tehran before the overthrow of the Shah (a place I've never been), Singapore on a return visit (a place I've been to a couple of times), where a report in the Singapore Straits Times foresees the electronic delivery of mail and news to every household.
It also shows how the journey affected the author. The final leg on the Trans-Siberian Express was depressing to read, yet vivid. Theroux had clearly had enough. He was having difficulty communicating with his fellow passengers, couldn't keep his promise to get home in time for Christmas and had unsettling dreams about his family.
But above all, the book is about the people that Paul Theroux met on his epic journey by rail through Asia; a slice of life as seen from a train in the early 1970s. As he says, "I sought trains; I found passengers."