Here's that review, finally.
First of all, I *loved* the book. The Great Railway Bazaar has certainly earned its place in the "Best Travel Books of all Time" lists. Like all good travel writing, it is much more than a description of places, people and culture. There's a great deal of philosophy, bits of fantasy and most importantly, a great deal of humor. For instance, here's a description of the Pakhtoonistan issue which rocked Pakistan and Afghanistan in the 70s:
"...was a few villages of armed Pathan tribesmen, supported by Russia and Afghanistan, who were threatening to secede from Pakistan, declare a new state, and deriving their income from dried fruit, become a sovereign power; the liberated warriors would then compete in the world market of raisins and prunes".
Pithy, to the point, and (to me, anyway) hysterically funny. Most of this sort of humor dies down in the last quarter of the book. At that point, Theroux had been in a succession of trains for three months on end. By the time he gets to northern Japan and the Trans-Siberian railway, the writing has touches of the fantastic about it, and detached descriptions bordering on hallucination abound. For instance, there's the Russian railway conductor who pummels a local within an inch of his life and kicks the poor man out of the car, and returns with Theroux's soup, bowing obsequiously. Anyone other than an emotionally exhausted man would have remonstrated with the conductor, but the author quietly drinks his soup and walks back to his car and to bed.
I won't give away the best parts of the book except to say that Theroux skilfully conveys the flavors of each place he passes through. I read with avid interest his description of traveling through India and could not help laughing out loud at the caricatures he draws of various Indian characters. While there's certainly a bit of exaggeration in places, and he goes hopelessly wrong on a few cultural nuances, none of it is serious enough to detract from the sheer unputdownability of the book. In short, highly recommended.