Paul Theroux is a vocal proponent of rail travel over air travel, which he likens to traveling by submarine for all that goes unseen and not experienced by its adherents. The Great Railway Bazaar, his 1975 account of a four month railroad journey through Europe and Asia begins, "I sought trains, I found passengers." It is certainly the individuals that Theroux meets along the way, rather than the cities, buildings, or sites of touristic import, to which he devotes his most generous descriptions.
Beginning in Victoria Station with Duffill, an older man with a tweed cap, ill-fitting clothes, and mysterious business in Istanbul (Duffill's name later becomes synonymous with being left behind at a railway station), Theroux's journeys brim with a huge cast of colorful characters. From ashram-bound hippies to devout Kali-worshiping Tamils to Vassily Prokofyevich, the drunken Russian dining car manager on the Trans-Siberian Express, Theroux richly details his varied encounters, paying particular attention to the bizarre along the bazaar.
The first of many in this genre from Theroux, including Dark Star Safari (2002) and Ghost Train to the Eastern Star (2008), The Great Railway Bazaar is at once a timeless narrative of humans and travel and a distinctly historical slice of global affairs as viewed by one decidedly motion-bound writer.