One of the greatest travelogues of the 20th century, Paul Theroux’s The Old Patagonian Express is newly presented as a Folio edition featuring an exclusive new introduction by the author and 24 original colour photographs.
‘One of the most entrancing travel books written in our time’
After boarding a subway train in the blisteringly cold Boston winter of 1978, Paul Theroux outstayed the commuters, the day trippers and interstate visitors to embark on an epic rail journey that would finish ‘almost at the end of the world’, at the southern tip of Argentina. More than 40 years since its first publication, Theroux revisits his remarkable journey in an exclusive new introduction commissioned for this edition; a reflective and timely return to a different era of travel, and a different traveller. Drawing from an array of photographic collections of the era, we have curated a selection of 24 striking colour photographs that are windows onto this epic train ride – from insalubrious after-dark Nuevo Laredo to the cattle ranches of Argentina.
Bound in blocked cloth with paper sides
Typeset in Arno Pro with Station No.5 and Compacta bold display
Frontispiece and 24 pages of colour photographs
Two maps by Kevin Freeborn
9½˝ x 6¾˝
‘I have always been a restless traveller. On arriving anywhere in the world, I immediately ask myself, When it’s time to leave, how will I get out of here?’
Specially commissioned for this edition, Theroux’s new introduction is a fascinating retrospective on the journey and the person he was when he undertook it. The destinations and the author have changed significantly and, on rereading his work for the first time in 43 years, Theroux discovered an ‘opinionated but fairly confident and sometimes homesick young man’, while some of the places he visited have since become unrecognisable. The book is a valuable snapshot of the Americas in the seventies and a collection of 24 carefully researched colour photographs – many previously unpublished – capture some of the remarkable places so eloquently described. There is the moment when Machu Picchu is revealed in all its startling beauty; Ecuadorean Indians weighed down by their bundles; and the terrifying trestle bridge on the FEGUA railway in Guatemala. For Theroux, travel is continuity and this unique collector’s edition preserves his original journey while also contemplating it from a new perspective.
‘I was seeking adventure. … I wished to travel from this cozy, homely place where I was born, to the distant and outlandish.’
Paul Theroux, from his Introduction
Fascinating, waspish and endlessly curious, Theroux is a fine travelling companion; his commentary on the mundane is as entertaining and enlightening as that on the history and current affairs of the countries he travels through. For Theroux, travel shouldn’t be easy or constantly exhilarating; it should be challenging and frustrating. ‘The journey, not the arrival, matters’ and it is his refusal to back down when told his next destination is dangerous or dull, and his engagement with any- and everyone that make his work so absorbing. Unless geography or political instability deemed it impossible, he travelled solely by train: from the relative luxury of the Amtrak Lone Star to the overcrowded, windowless and squalid boxcars of Guatemala, when it became clear that train travel was the domain of the poor in Latin America, and the penny pinching ‘rucksack brigade’.
Travelling on some of the most dangerous and most scenic railways in the world, Theroux’s journey is fraught with tedious delays, excruciating cold, stifling heat and bouts of mind-numbing boredom. And yet, he wouldn’t have it any other way. If not by train, how else to experience the ‘social miseries and scenic splendours of the continent’? In between train rides, there are cities and towns to explore and people to meet: the hellish aftermath of a San Salvador football match; a heart-breaking encounter with homeless boys in Colombia; lunch with distant relatives in Ecuador; and a chance glance from the window while travelling along the wild Mosquito Coast – ‘the perfect setting for a story of castaways’ – which would become Theroux’s award-winning novel two years later.
Paul Theroux is an American novelist and travel writer (‘The world’s most perceptive travel writer’ Daily Mail) who is the author of many highly acclaimed works of fiction and nonfiction, including The Great Railway Bazaar (1975; Folio 2013), The Old Patagonian Express (1979; Folio 2023), The Mosquito Coast (1981) Riding the Iron Rooster (1983), and Mr Bones: Twenty Stories (2014). In 2015, he was awarded a Royal Medal from the Royal Geographical Society for ‘the encouragement of geographical discovery through travel writing’. This award, approved by the Queen, is the highest award attainable for a traveller, and Theroux joins the ranks of recipients including Sir Edmund Hillary, Admiral Richard Byrd and Dr Thor Heyerdahl. His other awards include the American Academy and Institute of Arts & Letters Award for literature; the Whitbread Prize for his novel, Picture Palace; and the James Tait Black Award for The Mosquito Coast. His travelogue, The Old Patagonian Express: By Train through the Americas, and The Mosquito Coast were both nominated for the American Book Award.
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