Paul Theroux Explained

Birth Name:Paul Edward Theroux
Birth Date:10 April 1941
Birth Place:Medford, Massachusetts
Occupation:Novelist, Travel writer, short story writer, literary critic
Nationality:American
Period:1967 - Present
Influences:Henry James, V S Naipaul, Graham Greene, Anthony Trollope, Joseph Conrad

Paul Edward Theroux (born April 10, 1941) is an American travel writer and novelist, whose best known work of travel writing is perhaps The Great Railway Bazaar (1975). He has published numerous works of fiction, some of which were made into feature films. He was awarded the 1981 James Tait Black Memorial Prize for his novel The Mosquito Coast. He is the father of British authors and documentary makers Louis Theroux and Marcel Theroux, the brother of authors Alexander Theroux and Peter Theroux, and uncle to the American actor and screenwriter Justin Theroux.

Early life

Theroux was born in Medford, Massachusetts, the son of Catholic parents; his mother, Anne (née Dittami), was Italian American, and his father, Albert Eugene Theroux, was French-Canadian.[1] [2] His mother was a grammar school teacher and his father was a salesman for the American Leather Oak company.[3] [4] Theroux was a Boy Scout and ultimately achieved the rank of Eagle Scout.

Theroux was educated at Medford High School, followed by the University of Maine, in Orono (1959-60) and the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where he obtained a B.A. in English in 1963.

After he finished his university education, Theroux joined the Peace Corps in 1963 as a teacher in Malawi. A new program, the Peace Corps had sent its first volunteers overseas in 1961. While there, Theroux helped a political opponent of Prime Minister Hastings Banda escape to Uganda. For this Theroux was expelled from Malawi and thrown out of the Peace Corps. He was declared persona non grata by Banda in Malawi for sympathizing with Yatuta Chisiza.[5] As a consequence, his later novel Jungle Lovers was banned in Malawi for many years. He then moved to Uganda to teach at Makerere University, where he wrote for the magazine, Transition.

While at Makerere, Theroux began his three-decade friendship with novelist V. S. Naipaul, then a visiting scholar at the university. During his time in Uganda, an angry mob at a demonstration threatened to overturn the car in which his pregnant wife was riding. This incident may have contributed to his decision to leave Africa. He moved again to Singapore. After two years of teaching at the National University of Singapore, he settled in the United Kingdom, first in Dorset, and then in south London with his wife and two young children.

Literary work

His first novel, Waldo, was published during his time in Uganda and was moderately successful. He published several more novels over the next few years, including Fong and the Indians and Jungle Lovers. On his return to Malawi many years later, he found that this latter novel, which was set in that country, was still banned, a story told in his book Dark Star Safari.

After moving to London in 1972, Theroux set off on an epic journey by train from Great Britain to Japan and back. His account of this journey was published as The Great Railway Bazaar, his first major success as a travel writer, and now a classic in the genre.[6] [7] He has since written a number of other travel books, including descriptions of traveling by train from Boston to Argentina (The Old Patagonian Express), walking around the United Kingdom (The Kingdom By The Sea), kayaking in the South Pacific (The Happy Isles Of Oceania), visiting China (Riding the Iron Rooster), and traveling from Cairo to Cape Town (Dark Star Safari). As a traveler he is noted for his rich descriptions of people and places, laced with a heavy streak of irony, or even misanthropy. Other non-fiction by Theroux includes Sir Vidia's Shadow, an account of his personal and professional friendship with Nobel laureate V. S. Naipaul that ended abruptly after 30 years.

Personal life

Theroux was married to Anne Castle from 1967 to 1993. They had two sons: Marcel and Louis, both of whom are writers and television presenters. He also has an older son from a college relationship who was given up for adoption. He has been married to Sheila Donnelly since 1995. In his books, Theroux alludes to his ability to speak Italian, French, Spanish, Chichewa, Swahili, and Mandarin Chinese. He resides in Hawaii and Cape Cod, Massachusetts.[8]

Controversy

By including versions of himself, his family, and acquaintances in some of his fiction, Theroux has occasionally disconcerted his readers. "A. Burgess, Slightly Foxed: Fact and Fiction", a story originally published in The New Yorker[9], describes a dinner at the narrator's home with author Anthony Burgess and a book-hoarding philistine lawyer who nags the narrator for an introduction to the great writer. Burgess arrives drunk and cruelly mocks the lawyer, who introduces himself as a fan. The narrator’s wife is named Anne and she shrewishly refuses to help with the dinner. The magazine later published a letter from Anne Theroux denying that Burgess was ever a guest in her home and expressing admiration for him, having once interviewed the real Burgess for the BBC: “I was dismayed to read in your August 7th edition a story … by Paul Theroux, in which a very unpleasant character with my name said and did things that I have never said or done.”[10] When the story was incorporated into Theroux’s novel, My Other Life (1996), the character of the wife was renamed Alison and reference to her work at the BBC is excised.

Theroux's sometimes caustic portrait of Nobel Laureate V.S. Naipaul in his memoir Sir Vidia's Shadow (1998) contrasts with his earlier, gushing portrait of the same author in V.S. Naipaul, an Introduction to His Work (1972); events in their relationship over the 26 years between the two books colored the perspective of the later book.

Theroux's novel "Jungle Lovers" was banned by the ruling government in Malawi for many years. His novel St. Jack (1972), was banned by the ruling government of Singapore for 30 years.[11] Both were banned because the governing parties thought them to be unacceptably critical of the local government's leader(s) or cast the country in an unfavorable light.

Theroux has been critical of Bono, Brad Pitt, and Angelina Jolie as "mythomaniacs, people who wish to convince the world of their worth."[12] He has also asserted that "the impression that Africa is fatally troubled and can be saved only by outside help - not to mention celebrities and charity concerts - is a destructive and misleading conceit.".[12] Reviewer John Ryle has disagreed with Theroux's opinions on international aid, accusing him of ignorance.[13]

Theroux has described himself as an "angry and agitated young man" in his early 20s when he felt he had to escape the confines of Massachusetts and a hostile U.S. foreign policy, when he joined the Peace Corps and went to Africa. He has described himself as having "the disposition of a hobbit" and remains optimistic about most of his subject matter. "I need happiness in order to write well...being depressed merely produces depressing literature in my case", he explained.[14]

Select awards and honors

[15]

Adaptations

Novels and short story collections

Non-fiction

External links

Notes and References

  1. Book: The International Who's Who 2004. Routledge. 2003. 1668. 1-85743-217-7.
  2. http://pqasb.pqarchiver.com/chicagotribune/access/24534466.html?dids=24534466:24534466&FMT=ABS&FMTS=ABS:FT&type=current&date=Jun+04%2C+1989&author=Reviewed+by+Alan+Cheuse%2C+author+of%2C+among+other+books%2C+the+novel+%22The+Grandmothers'+Club%22+and+the+memoir+%22Fall+Out+of+Heaven%22.&pub=Chicago+Tribune+(pre-1997+Fulltext)&desc=A+worldly+education+Paul+Theroux+imagines+a+much-traveled+writer's+active+erotic+life&pqatl=google
  3. http://books.google.ca/books?id=5PoZAAAAYAAJ&q=%22Albert-Eugene+THEROUX%22&dq=%22Albert-Eugene+THEROUX%22&hl=en
  4. http://books.google.ca/books?id=aMkUAQAAIAAJ&q=THEROUX%22+Dittami&dq=THEROUX%22+Dittami&cd=4
  5. http://www.peacecorpswriters.org/pages/2000/0003/prntvers003/pv003pchist.html
  6. http://www.travelliterature.org/reviews/bazaar.shtml Travelliterature.org
  7. http://www.powells.com/cgi-bin/biblio?inkey=2-9780618658947-0 Powells.com
  8. http://www.capecodtoday.com/blogs/index.php/2008/09/03/famous-author-summers-in-sandwich?blog=99 Cape Cod Today
  9. The New Yorker, August 7, 1995.
  10. The New Yorker, September 18, 1995, p.14.
  11. Paul Theroux, Ghost Train to the Eastern Star, p. 320.
  12. News: PAUL THEROUX. The Rock Star's Burden. December 15, 2005. New York Times. 2008-08-05.
  13. John Ryle, "Review: Dark Star Safari by Paul Theroux", The Guardian, 2 November 2002. "I'm not an aid worker, but I was working in Kenya myself at about the time Theroux passed through ... It's not that Theroux is wrong to criticise the empire of aid. In some ways the situation is even worse than he says ... The problem is that Theroux knows next to nothing about it. Aid is a failure, he says, because 'the only people dishing up the food and doling out the money are foreigners. No Africans are involved'. But the majority of employees of international aid agencies in Africa, at almost all levels, are Africans. In some African countries it is international aid agencies that provide the most consistent source of employment ... The problem is not, as Theroux says, that Africans are not involved; it is, if anything, the opposite. How come he didn't notice this? Because, despite his hissy fits about white people in white cars who won't give him lifts, he never actually visits an aid project or the office of an aid organisation."
  14. Interview with Eleanor Wachtel, CBC Radio, 30th International Festival of Authors, Toronto, October 25, 2009.
  15. http://www.lyceumagency.com/paul+theroux.aspx Lyceum Agency -- Paul Theroux
  16. http://www.peacecorpswriters.org/pages/depts/archives/awards/fiction.html Maria Thomas Fiction Award for Peace Corps Writers