For five days, famed American travel writer, Paul Theroux dined on hard-boiled eggs, microwaved lentils and wine.
He set up cross-country in a rented Jeep Compass the day before Thanksgiving, driving from Cape Cod, where he has a home, to Los Angeles, where he distributed boxes of his papers in his archives at the Huntington Library, And then took off. In Hawaii, his second home.
Theroux said he observed a scenario largely vacated by the coronovirus epidemic that originated from the deserted motels in Salisaw, Okla. And the Desert Motel, when he went to sleep in a rest area in Tennessee, where he thanked his solitude Had food In-N-Out Burger in Kingsman, Arise, on his last day on the road. Every night, as is his habit, he wrote for a long time what he saw.
“It was like a panning shot of America,” he said in a video interview from Oahu’s North Shore, where he has been living for more than 30 years.
Theroux turns 80 in April. For a generation of backpackers now grayed out, the thrill under a mosquito net was a glimpse of inspiration in the exhausting paperback accounts of their trek through China, Africa and South America. He wrote a new novel by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in April, “Wave Under the Vevia,” and his most famous book (and His own favorite from them), “Mosquito coast, “In a television series starring his nephew, Justin Theroux, is also set to premiere next month.
If it seems like a moment to take stock of a fearless life and almost extreme production of writing, Theroux sees himself nowhere near. Before Kovid-19 was killed, he had plans to go to Central Africa. He is deep into another novel and is finishing a new story collection. He himself cannot keep track of the number of books he has written: “Fifty-maybe something?” (It’s actually 56.)
The travelogue is his signature, a genre he instigated in the early 1970s when he had few books under his belt as a young novelist, he found himself out of ideas. He decided to cross parts of the world by rail, starting in London, returning to the Trans-Siberian Railway through the Middle East and through Southeast Asia. The account that emerged from this exhausting journey, “Great railway market, “Has sold over 1.5 million copies and created shelves inspired on the shelves of books built on similar conceit.
Have written about Theroux over the past decade Solo driving through mexico (He always travels alone) “On the Plane of Snake” (2019); Search for some of the poorest areas of your own country “deep South”(2015); And travel to Africa, “The last train to zona verde“(2013), in which he returned to the areas known as a Peace Corps volunteer in the 1960s.
This genre – the outsider arrives and presents an assessment of the foreigner – has lost ground over the years to visit memoirs such as Elizabeth Robert’s “eat Pray Love“That the journey to the interior is described as much as people have seen and seen the places. Theroux, seated at his desk, is strewn with artifacts of those journeys – the skull of the little Buddha, a sacrificial monkey, given to him in Bali Thi, a wooden Polynesian weapon – defended his approach.
Theroux said, “It is more necessary than ever to find someone to experience, to meet someone else, to be in another culture, to sniff it, to suffer and to deal with the nuisances of travel.” He received the Nobel Prize-awarded author VS. Cited Naipaul, who was at various moments in Theroux’s writing career Was a mentor and a nemesis: “I believe that the present, accurately seized, denotes the future.”
And Theroux agrees. “You don’t have to make forecasts,” he said. “You just write about the things you see, the things you hear, the things you are understanding, and when you write, you are a prophet.”
But these days there is no great thirst for prophets, especially those who present judgments of other cultures. Theroux is aware of this, or at least the perception that his way of writing about the world is lost.
His new novel tells the story of Joey Sharkey, an aging North Shore surfer who resembles the characters of Theroux, who have gone to the beaches near his home. Sharkey realizes that he is overtaking the young surfer with big assistants. For her, surfing was a way of life, an existence focused on catching waves, a commitment to the ocean.
Theroux sees surfing as a metaphor for his life. All he ever wanted was to be able to write without interruption, without the mess of car alarms going out of his window or bills coming in the mail, without the need to do anything else for money, but on his desk. Sitting after the day. In many ways, Theroux has achieved this. But the surfer forgot his chief like the past, he does not mean that the world has become hostile to the pure joy of the waves. There is fear of being ignored, unread.
“I was a hot shot once, I was a punk once,” Theroux said. “And everyone who has once been a goon, finally you have grown up, and you see the turning point of the years. We all feel it, every writer. They can reject it. But they do, they all feel it. “
There was no indication of the severity of theroux staring. Critics of his books have often touched on his brutally ironic tone, a sense of compassion for the people he meets and the fictional characters he creates. Take Stephen King’s assessment lightly in an autobiographical book reviewHomeland“From 2017, which got Raja to exercise in relation to” self-conceit and self-pity. “
Theroux feels that readers may consider him a crank, but he thinks that the problem may be with the readers. “You cannot be an angry traveler. You won’t get anywhere, “he said. “You will be killed, you will be insulted, you will not be able to travel. So you need people. I think maybe I am an equally big person, because if you look at things that way, and you Describe things in the same way that you can accuse them.
One of his oldest friends, the British Writer and novelist Jonathan RabanThose with whom Theroux have exchanged manuscripts for decades think critics have missed a significant change in Theroux’s writing. “Compared to the tone of earlier work, its sarcasm, its sharp observations and always being from the point of view of an absolutist, Paul has developed a kind of humanity in recent books that I had not seen before,” Raban said.
He pointed 2019 essay Regarding a pet goose named Willie who was raised by Theroux from birth and died as he fell into his arms, the animal’s blue eyes turned gray, described with a moment of vulnerability. For Raban, like the previous few books of Theroux, this piece signals the reader to move closer. Raban said “tenderness is a very long journey from barbaric barbarism.”
Age has also played its part. Theroux sees advantages in this, such as an old surfer whose lack of stamina forces him to discover new ways to ride his board – after all, Theroux explains, it was a man in his late 40s, Garrett Machenara, who was the eldest. Recorded wave. Theroux can see how traveling as an octogenarian would be his asset. In some cultures, older people are invisible, benefiting in many situations, he said.
In other places where he has visited, elders are treated with respect. “They either jump from their chair and give it to you, or they ignore you,” Theroux said.
And where would he like to go next? “There are a lot of places I want to go,” he said. “And there are a lot of places I’ve never been. I have never been to Scandinavia, but I have no desire to go there.
All he wants to do is return it. When you were younger, it is your value to go back to the country you went to. It both marks the time in your own life and serves as a kind of gauge for how a society is changing.
“It tells you about the direction of the world,” Theroux said. “What is going to happen to the world?” And you find that you can reopen the place you knew well. Going back to England, going back to Malawi, going back to India. This is a fascinating thing. So if you ask me what I am looking forward to: I like going back to places.