Sunday, 2 June 2013

Travel Reads: The Tao of Travel by Paul Theroux

The Tao of Travel by Paul Theroux is an exhaustive, brilliant and comprehensive travel book encapsulating the thoughts, eccentricities and journeys of many travelers from Evelyn Waugh, Richard Burton, DH Lawrence, Henry Fielding, Eric Newby, Bruce Chatwin, Vladimir Nabokov to Dervla Murphy. However the list is endless. It also covers the thoughts and writings of Theroux himself.

The author aptly writes on the Preface: The Importance of Elsewhere:

'As a child, yearning to leave home and go far away, the image in my mind was of flight - my little self hurrying off alone. The word "travel" did not occur to me, nor did the word "transformation", which was my unspoken but enduring wish. I wanted to find myself in a distant place, and new things to care about. The importance of elsewhere was something I took on faith. Elsewhere was the place I wanted to be. Too young to go, I read about elsewheres fantasizing my freedom. Books were my road. And then, when I was old enough to go, the roads I traveled became the obsessive subject in my own books. Eventually I saw that the most passionate travelers have always been passionate readers and writers. And that is how this book (The Tao of Travel) came about'.

This book is an encapsulation of several ideas, crazy adventures, travelers' prejudices, obsessions, habits and neuroses. Read about Joshua Slocum who said he suffered from 'mental lapses' and was arrested for exposing himself to a young girl. Or read about the 'monumental grandeur' of Freya Stark. The excerpt highlighted from Niradh C. Chaudhuri's The Autobiography of an Unknown Indian is marvelous and gives the reader a sensory feel of the time and place. Or Christ Stopped at Eboli by Carlo Levi is one of my favorite passages from this book. And so is No Picnic on Mount Kenya by Felice Benuzzi.

The list goes on. There are writers who have written about places they had not visited while writing about them as backdrops to their books. Saul Bellow's Henderson the Rain King is one such example and Theroux titles this passage as Saul Bellow's Fairly Serious Fooling. Edgar Rice Burroughs had remarked, "I can write write better about places I've never seen."

However one can summarize by saying that all these travelers and writers came, saw and conquered. The Tao of Travel is indeed a highlight of some of the best travel writings. It also highlights Theroux's favorite places on the globe and the ones that are on his wishlist.

Quoting from The Happy Isles of Oceania by the author: "One of the greatest rewards of travel is the return home to the reassurance of family and old friends, familiar sights and homely comforts and your own bed."

(Article by Kabita Sonowal)

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