Paul Theroux biography, plus links to book reviews and book excerpts from books by Paul Theroux.

Author Biography  |  Interview  |  Books by this Author  |  Readalikes

Paul Theroux
Photo: Greg Martin

Paul Theroux

Paul Theroux: Thor-ew (which, incidentally, is different to Henry Thoreau which is pronounced like 'thorough')

Paul Theroux Biography

Paul Edward Theroux was born on April 10, 1941 in Medford, Massachusetts. The son of a French-Canadian father and an Italian mother, Theroux was one of seven children. Never much of an athlete, Theroux spent most of the 1950's reading. He never admitted, even to himself, his desire to be a writer and studied premed in college. Writing, he believed to be "incompatible with being a man--money is masculinity".

Theroux, who grew up a Boy Scout and a Catholic, graduated high school in 1959 and left Medford "the first chance I had". He attended the University of Maine where he wrote many anti-Vietnam war editorials and refused to join the required Reserved Officers Training Corps. He transferred to the University of Massachusetts and took a creative writing course from the poet Joseph Langland. That decision changed the way Theroux would perceive writing as a career. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1963.

At Syracuse University, Theroux trained for the Peace Corps and then lectured for a short while at the University of Urbino in Italy. Next he was sent to Malawi, Africa (then called the Nyasaland Protectorate, under British rule) where he taught at Soche Hill College and wrote sentimental articles for Christian Science Monitor. He also wrote articles for Playboy, Esquire, and Atlantic Monthly. He won the Playboy Editorial Award for Best Story four times. (In '72, '76, '77, and '79.) In 1964, he was involved in a failed coup d'etat of the Malawi president-dictator and was thrown out of the Peace Corps.  He returned to teach English at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda, where he met not only his future wife, Anne Castle, a schoolteacher from London, but also V. S. Naipaul, who was to become his mentor. Theroux's first son, Marcel, was born in Uganda in 1968.

Waldo, Theroux's first novel, sold about 4000 copies. He went on to write Fong and The Indians, published in 1968; Murder in Mount Holly and then Girls at Play, a novel about "the futility of African politics and the disintegration of tribal life." When an angry mob at a demonstration threatened to overturn the car in which his pregnant wife was riding, Theroux made the decision to leave Africa.

Theroux was next worked at the University of Singapore, where he wrote his fifth novel, Jungle Lovers. His second son Louis was born in Singapore in 1969. It was in Singapore that Theroux realized that he had enough of the monotony of teaching and decided to become a professional writer. His wife got a job in London and he taught one last course at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville in 1972. Both Sinning With Annie and a criticism of V. S. Naipaul's early works were published in 1972. Theroux wrote Saint Jack, a novel about his time in Singapore, while living in Dorset, England. Saint Jack was made into a film by Peter Bogdanovich, starring Ben Gazzara as the main character, Jack. Theroux's seventh novel, The Black House is a macabre tale set in the English countryside.

The Great Railway Bazaar: By Train Through Asia was Theroux's first travel novel and also the first novel to distinguish him as a well-known writer. The book was a best seller. It was also a main selection for the Book-of-the Month Club.

Next came The Family Arsenal (1976); Picture Palace (1978) which won the Whitbread Award; and The Mosquito Coast (1982) which won the James Tait Black Award. Mosquito Coast was later made into a movie directed by Peter Weir (1986), starring Harrison Ford as the main character. Theroux also published three collections of short stories, that mirrored some if his adventures while abroad: The Consul's File (1977), World's End (1980), and The London Embassy (1983).

At the request of his two sons, Theroux also wrote two children's stories : A Christmas Card (1978) and London Snow: A Christmas Story (1979). He also published Half Moon Street (1984) which contained two short novels.  He also continued to write travel novels, publishing The Old Patagonian Express in 1979, The Kingdom By The Sea (1983), Sailing Through China (1983) and The Imperial Way: By Rail from Peshwar to Chittagong (1985), a "coffee table book" which includes the photography of Steve McCurry. Patagonia Revisited (1985) is based on a discussion between Bruce Chatwin and Theroux of Patagonia's influence on literature. Sunrise with Seamonsters: Travels and Discoveries (1985) is a collection of Theroux's articles and essays between 1964 and 1984.

Riding The Iron Rooster (1988) chronicles Theroux's travels by train through China, and was followed by My Secret History (1989), Chicago Loop (1990), To The Ends of the Earth (1990), Millroy the Magician (1994), The Pillars of Hercules (1995), and My Other Life (1996).  In 1997 he wrote Kowloon Tong, a novel about Britain's rule over Hong Kong; and in 1998, Sir Vidia's Shadow, which purports to be a biography of his mentor, VS Naipaul but, as one reviewer puts it, is a "mixture of autobiography, Boswellian chronicle, and poison-pen letter".  Fresh Air Fiend was the title of his 2000 collection, a reflection on his life and travel writings. In 2001, he published  Hotel Honolulu; followed by Blinding Light (2004); and in 2007, a collection of three short stories, The Elephanta Suite.

In 1977, Theroux won an award in Literature from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. He is also a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and the Royal Geographic Society in Britain; and holds honorary doctorates in literature from Trinity College in Washington and Tufts University in Medford, Theroux's hometown.

He currently divides his time between Cape Cod and Hawaii, where he lives with his second wife.

Link to Paul's website

This biography was last updated on 08/25/2011.

A note about the biographies
We try to keep BookBrowse's biographies both up to date and accurate. However, with over 2500 lives to keep track of it's inevitable that some won't be as current or as complete as we would like. So, please help us - if the information about a particular author is out of date, inaccurate or simply very short, and you know of a more complete source, please let us know. Authors and those connected with authors: If you wish to make changes to your bio, please send your complete biography as you would like it displayed so that we can replace the old with the new.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Interview

An Interview with Paul Theroux


You taught in Africa in the early 1960s. Why did you decide to return after almost 40 years?
Since leaving Africa in October 1968 I thought of the places I had worked, the people I had known, and the hope we all had. I constantly thought: What happened? I longed to return, and I thought I would do it in the year I turned 60. My book represents one man’s road. Another person could take the same trip and would have different experiences. That’s a truism, of course. This trip was special to me—because the road was in part Memory Lane—and because I loved the challenges. There is nothing in the world more vitalizing to me that traveling in the African bush.

It is wonderful for a teacher to meet a former student and see that he or she is gainfully employed—perhaps as a teacher; and is a responsible parent and homeowner. This happened to me in Malawi and Uganda—wonderful memories. My old friend Apolo Nsibambi—we used to drink and argue in the 1960s—is now Prime Minister of Uganda. I loved seeing him after 30 years. The passage of time is more dramatic in Africa—amazing to witness its effects, for I first set foot...

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Books by this Author

Books by Paul Theroux at BookBrowse

Recommended in Detail at BookBrowse

The Elephanta Suite
The Elephanta Suite

by Paul Theroux

A master of the travel narrative weaves three intertwined novellas of Westerners transformed by their sojourns in India.
Read More

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Readalikes

All the books below are recommended as readalikes for Paul Theroux but some maybe more relevant to you than others depending on which books by the author you have read and enjoyed. So look for the suggested read-alikes by title linked on the right.
How we choose readalikes

  • Greg Behrman

    Greg Behrman

    Greg Behrman is the Henry Kissinger Fellow for Foreign Policy at The Aspen Institute. He is the author of The Invisible People: How the U.S. Has Slept Trough the Global AIDS Pandemic, The Greatest Humanitarian Catastrophe of ... (more)

    If you enjoyed:
    Dark Star Safari

    Try:
    The Invisible People
    by Greg Behrman

  • Tom Bissell

    Tom Bissell

    Tom Bissell is the author of Chasing the Sea, God Lives in St. Petersburg, The Father of All Things and Why Video Games Matter. A recipient of the Rome Prize, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and the Bay de Noc Community College ... (more)

    If you enjoyed:
    The Elephanta Suite

    Try:
    God Lives In St. Petersburg
    by Tom Bissell

We recommend 12 similar authors

View all 12 Readalikes

Non-members can see 2 results. Become a member
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!
Member Benefits

Join Now!

Check the advantages!
Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year

    •  
    • FREE
    • MEMBER
    • Range of media reviews for each book
    • Excerpts of all featured books
    • Author bios, interviews and pronunciations
    • Browse by genre
    • Book club discussions
    • Book club advice and reading guides
    • BookBrowse reviews and "beyond the book" back-stories
    •  
    • Reviews of notable books ahead of publication
    •  
    • Free books to read and review (US Only)
    •  
    • Browse for the best books by time period, setting & theme
    •  
    • Read-alike suggestions for thousands of books and authors
    •  
    • 'My Reading List" to keep track of your books
    •  
Sign up, win books!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket
    The Search
    by Geoff Dyer
    All hail the independent publisher! In May 2014, Graywolf Press brought two of long-revered British ...
  • Book Jacket
    Mrs. Hemingway
    by Naomi Wood
    Naomi Wood's latest novel, Mrs. Hemingway, is a fictionalized biography covering in turn writer...
  • Book Jacket
    The Stranger on the Train
    by Abbie Taylor
    The opening chapter of Abbie Taylor's debut novel, The Stranger on the Train, took me right back to ...

First Impressions

Members read and review books ahead
of publication. See what they think
in First Impressions!

Books that
expand your
horizons.

Visitors can view a lot of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only

Find out more.

Book Discussions
Book Jacket

The City
by Dean Koontz

Published Jul. 2014

Join the discussion!

  1.  93Tomlinson Hill:
    Chris Tomlinson

All Discussions

Win this book!
Win The Angel of Losses

The Angel of Losses

"Family saga, mystery, and myth intersect in Feldman's debut novel." - Booklist

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

E C H A Silver L

and be entered to win..

Books thatinspire you.Handpicked.

Books you'll stay up all night reading; books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, books that will expand your mind and inspire you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.