Paul Theroux…

is 63 today. The Writer’s Almanac also has an interesting essay on Theroux (rhymes with “true”).

It’s the birthday of novelist and travel writer Paul Theroux, born in Medford, Massachusetts (1941). When he was growing up, his father read to him and his siblings from novels by Charles Dickens and Herman Melville. He and his brothers were encouraged to write, and at an early age they started a family newspaper to report on the daily events of their household.

Theroux joined the Peace Corps after college and went to live in East Africa. He was expelled from Malawi after he became friends with a group that planned to assassinate the president of the country. He continued traveling around Africa, teaching English, and started submitting journalism to magazines back in the United States. While living in Africa, he became friends with the writer V.S. Naipaul, who became his mentor and who encouraged him to keep traveling. He did keep traveling, and he believes that living outside the United States is the best thing that ever happened to him as a writer. He said, “Travel is a creative act—not simply loafing and inviting your soul, but feeding the imagination, accounting for each fresh wonder, memorizing and moving on. The discoveries the traveler makes in broad daylight—the curious problems of the eye he solves—resemble those that thrill and sustain a novelist in his solitude.”

He had published several novels when he decided to go on a four-month trip through Asia by train. He wrote every day on the journey, and filled four thick notebooks with material that eventually became his first bestseller, The Great Railway Bazaar: By Train Through Asia (1975). He has since written many books of fiction, including The Mosquito Coast (1981), and many books of travel writing, including Fresh Air Fiend (2000). His most recent travel book is Dark Star Safari (2003), about traveling over land from Cairo, Egypt to Cape Town, South Africa.

Dwight Garner intereviewed Theroux for Salon a few years ago, as did Anthony Grant for Atlantic Unbound.

The fact that few people go there is one of the most persuasive reasons for traveling to a place.
Paul Theroux, The Happy Isles of Oceania.