This early nonfiction work by novelist and travel writer Paul Theroux recounts his journey by rail from Boston to the far reaches of South America in 1977. Each stage is documented in detail, from the ride on the Lake Shore Limited between Boston and Chicago to the titular train in Patagonia. Theroux’s constant complaints about delays, bad food, poor lodgings, and his fellow passengers are irritating and may discourage some readers from sticking with the book. Luckily, it improves considerably when he arrives in Argentina. He stops for several days in Buenos Aires and forms an acquaintanceship with Jorge Luis Borges, the giant of Argentine literature. And his grouchiness mellows in the final stages of the journey, leaving room for some moments of startling inspiration.
Read if you enjoyed: The Motorcycle Diaries by Ernesto “Che” Guevara, The Great Railway Bazaar by Paul Theroux
Look for The Old Patagonian Express at Multnomah County Library.
Emma Larkin’s extraordinary nonfiction book examining the influence of Burma on George Orwell’s literary legacy was first published in 2005, when the political opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi was still under house arrest. Though the political landscape in Myanmar (formerly Burma) has become ever-so-slightly more democratic with her release and election to parliament, this look at literature in a totalitarian state remains relevant and utterly captivating. Larkin’s premise for this hybrid work of literary criticism/travelogue/political science is that the time Eric Arthur Blair (aka George Orwell) spent in Burma as a young man and member of the imperial police had a profound influence on his later writing, and that the books Burmese Days, Animal Farm, and 1984 form an unintentional trilogy about Burmese politics. A grim, intelligent book, and a must-read for fans of Orwell.
Read if you enjoyed: Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi, Burmese Days by George Orwell
Look for Finding George Orwell in Burma at Multnomah County Library.