Paul Theroux

What’s the best way to experience a place?

PT: Living there, I think. Living there and probably having a child in school [there]. If you can’t do that, just staying as long as possible and making friends. It’s certainly not breezing through.

The best way is to have something in common with people and to somehow see what kinds of burdens they have. Being a taxpayer in England, which I was for 18 years, taught me everything about living there.

Why do you think it’s important to travel?

PT: [Travel allows you to] know about the world, and to see how other people’s problems are closely related to your own–how other people’s lives are linked to your own.

What do you say when people make excuses for not traveling?

PT: It’s like people who say, “I don’t have time to read.” It’s just an excuse, and it’s a pretty lame excuse. I can understand why someone might not have enough money to travel to distant places, but you don’t have to go very far to travel. You can find difference, and something to see, anywhere.

What do you bring with you wherever you go?

PT: I really wouldn’t go anywhere without a book to read. Also a notebook and a pen.

Do you have a favorite travel book?

PT: I always say the same one, and it’s The Worst Journey in the World, by Apsley Cherry-Garrard. In the process of writing The Tao of Travel, I found that there were 300 books that were worthy of quotation. That’s why I wrote that personal anthology of travel books.

What made you realize that you wanted to make travel a permanent part of your life?

PT: Going to Africa with the Peace Corps. I didn’t choose; I was sent to Nyasaland [now Malawi], and it was like going to another planet. I loved it. I was also away from my family, and that was a thrill, to be far, far away.

What’s the best road trip you’ve ever taken?

PT: Really the greatest one I took, the most memorable, was from the southern province of Malawi–through Malawi, Zambia, Tanzania, Kenya–to Uganda in 1965. There were lions in the road, Maasai warriors, road blocks, giraffes. It was about 2,000 miles of dirt roads, and it was ’65 so there was very little other traffic. It was sort of pre-safari, pre-tourist. I was just 23 years old, driving this car with another guy. Nothing can compare with that.

After Prayers…

After our Muslim hosts prayed we waited til the worshipers and tourists left. We waited a long time. When it was time Mohammed took me by the hand and led me here.  He said, holding my hand in the softest voice possible, “the West will never tolerate the coming of Islam.” I mumbled something about his being wrong, we are all the same–human; just people, blah, blah, blah.

“Never,” he said, without expression.

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