Paul Theroux on September 25, 2008
|Born||Paul Edward Theroux
April 10, 1941
Paul Edward Theroux (born April 10, 1941) is an American travel writer and novelist, whose best-known work is The Great Railway Bazaar (1975). He has published numerous works of fiction, some of which were adapted as feature films. He was awarded the 1981 James Tait Black Memorial Prize for his novel The Mosquito Coast, which was adapted for the 1986 movie of the same name.
He is the father of British authors and documentary makers Marcel Theroux and Louis Theroux, the brother of authors Alexander Theroux and Peter Theroux, and uncle of the American actor and screenwriter Justin Theroux.
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. His mother was a grammar school teacher and his father was a salesman for the American Leather Oak company. Theroux was a Boy Scout and ultimately achieved the rank of Eagle Scout.
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. 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. As a consequence, his later novel Jungle Lovers, which concerns an attempted coup in the country, was banned in Malawi for many years. He moved to Uganda to teach at Makerere University, where he wrote for the magazine Transition.
While at Makerere, Theroux began his 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 their decision to leave Africa. The couple moved with their son Marcel to Singapore. After two years of teaching at the National University of Singapore, Theroux and his family settled in the United Kingdom, first in Dorset, and then in south London. By then he and his wife had two young children.
Theroux published his first novel, Waldo (1967), during his time in Uganda; it 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. He recounted that in his book Dark Star Safari (2002).
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. He has since written a number of travel books, including 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 across Africa (Dark Star Safari). He is noted for his rich descriptions of people and places, laced with a heavy streak of irony, or even misanthropy. Non-fiction by Theroux includes Sir Vidia's Shadow, an account of his personal and professional friendship with Nobel laureate V. S. Naipaul, which ended abruptly after 30 years.
Theroux was married to English woman 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; he and his unmarried partner gave the boy up for adoption. Theroux has been married to Sheila Donnelly since 1995.
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, 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 mocks the lawyer, who introduces himself as a fan. The narrator’s wife is named Anne, and she refuses to help with the dinner. The magazine later published a letter from Anne Theroux denying that Burgess was ever a guest in their 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.” When the story was incorporated into Theroux’s novel, My Other Life (1996), the wife was renamed "Alison", and reference to her work at the BBC was excluded.
Theroux's sometimes caustic portrait of Nobel Laureate V. S. Naipaul in his memoir Sir Vidia's Shadow (1998) contrasts sharply with his earlier, admiring 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. The two authors attempted a reconciliation in 2011.
His novel Jungle Lovers (1971) was banned by the government in Malawi for many years. His novel Saint Jack (1973) was banned by the government of Singapore for 30 years. Both were banned because they were considered too critical of the government's leader(s), or cast the country in an unfavorable light.
Theroux has criticized entertainer Bono, and actors Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie as "mythomaniacs, people who wish to convince the world of their worth." He has said 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".
Book critic John Ryle has disparaged Theroux's opinions on international aid, accusing him of ignorance:
"'Aid is a failure,' he [Theroux] 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."
Theroux remains optimistic about Africa: "I'm not pessimistic about Africa. The cities just seem big and hopeless. But there's still a great green heart where there's possibility. There's hope in the wilderness ... What Africa needs is a little organization and better government."
Theroux has described himself in his early 20s—when he joined the Peace Corps and went to Africa—as an "angry and agitated young man" who felt he had to escape the confines of Massachusetts and a hostile U.S. foreign policy. He says he now has "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 explains.
In an op-ed in the New York Times on October 22, 2016, Theroux recommended that President Obama pardon John Walker Lindh, in which he compared his own Peace Corps volunteer outing in Malawi with the convicted American citizen who fought with the Taliban in Afghanistan. Among critical comments was an analysis in Jihad Watch by Robert Spencer which claimed Theroux's was a false analogy.
Select awards and honors
- Fellow, Royal Society of Literature and Royal Geographical Society in UK
- Honorary doctorate in literature from Trinity College in Washington, D.C.
- Honorary doctorate in literature from Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts
- 2015: Patron's Medal from the Royal Geographical Society in UK
- 1990: Maria Thomas Fiction Award, lifetime achievement award
- 1983: American Book Award nominee - The Mosquito Coast
- 1981: James Tait Black Memorial Prize - The Mosquito Coast
- 1981: American Book Award nominee - The Old Patagonian Express
- 1989: Thomas Cook Travel Book Award - Riding the Iron Rooster
- 1978: Whitbread Prize for Best Novel - Picture Palace
- 1977: American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters award for literature
- 1972, 1976, 1977, and 1979: The Playboy Editorial Award for Best Story
- Saint Jack was filmed by director Peter Bogdanovich (1979).
- Doctor Slaughter was made into the film Half Moon Street (1986).
- The Mosquito Coast was made into a film of the same name (1986).
- Chinese Box (1997), a film about the British handover of Hong Kong to the People's Republic of China, credits Theroux as a source for the story, based on themes he explored in his 1997 novel Kowloon Tong.
- A Christmas Card was a radio play dramatized by Nick Warburton and directed by Marilyn Imrie for BBC Radio 4, 29 December 1997.
- The Stranger at the Palazzo D'Oro was a radio play directed by Lu Kemp for BBC Radio 4, 17 December 2004.
- "Paul Theroux". Bookclub. September 1, 2013. BBC Radio 4. Retrieved January 18, 2014.
- The International Who's Who 2004. Routledge. 2003. p. 1668. ISBN 1-85743-217-7.
- Cheuse, Alan (June 4, 1989). "A worldly education Paul Theroux imagines a much-traveled writer's active erotic life". Chicago Tribune.
- Current Biography Yearbook, H. W. Wilson Co., 1979, page 415
- Living on the Edge: Paul Theroux, Peace Corps Writers
- Patrick French's biography of VS Naipaul: Naipaul's friendship with Paul Theroux, Daily Telegraph, 23 Mar 2008
- Edge, Dave McKean, Barron Storey, Marshall Arisman, Bill Sienkiewicz, Paul Theroux Vanguard Productions (NJ), 2003, page 60
- Dark Star Safari by Paul Theroux, page 329, Penguin edition publ. 2002, ISBN 978-0-14-028111-8
- "Famous Author Summers in Sandwich", Cape Cod Today, 3 September 2008
- The New Yorker, August 7, 1995.
- The New Yorker, September 18, 1995, p.14.
- Paul Theroux, Ghost Train to the Eastern Star, p. 320.
- PAUL THEROUX (December 15, 2005). "The Rock Star's Burden". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-08-05.
- John Ryle, "Review: Dark Star Safari by Paul Theroux", The Guardian, 2 November 2002.
- Paul Theroux, "Author Paul Theroux on his final African journey", USA Today, 23 May 2013.
- Interview with Eleanor Wachtel, CBC Radio, 30th International Festival of Authors, Toronto, October 25, 2009.
- Theroux, Paul (October 22, 2016). "Pardon the American Taliban". New York Times.
- Spencer, Robert (October 24, 2016). "New York Times: Paul Theroux asks Obama to pardon American Taliban John Walker Lindh". Jihad Watch.
- Lyceum Agency -- Paul Theroux
- Maria Thomas Fiction Award for Peace Corps Writers
|92Y / The Paris Review Interview Series: Paul Theroux, December 18, 1989|
|Book Discussion on Ghost Train to the Eastern Star, September 27, 2008|
|Book Discussion on Dark Star Safari, APRIL 10, 2003|
|Wikiquote has quotations related to: Paul Theroux|
- Houghton Mifflin - official site for Paul Theroux
- "Notable Former Volunteers / Arts and Literature". Peace Corps official site
- Peace Corps biography of Paul Theroux
- Paul Theroux Discussion Group
- Fan site for Paul Theroux
- Paul Theroux articles at Byliner
- Burgess as Fictional Character in Theroux and Byatt, John J. Stinson (Université d'Angers, 2000)
- Works by or about Paul Theroux in libraries (WorldCat catalog)
- Stephen Capen Interview on Worldguide, Futurist Radio Hour -- November 27, 1995
- Stephen Capen Interview Number Two, Worldguide - September 25, 1996
- Living on the Edge: Paul Theroux
- Appearances on C-SPAN