Paul Theroux

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.

Paul Theroux
Theroux in 2008
BornPaul Edward Theroux
(1941-04-10) April 10, 1941
Medford, Massachusetts, U.S.
  • Novelist
  • travel writer
  • short story writer
  • literary critic
Alma materUniversity of Massachusetts Amherst (B.A., 1963)
Anne Castle
(m. 1967; div. 1993)

Sheila Donnelly (m. 1995)
ChildrenMarcel Theroux
Louis Theroux
RelativesAlexander Theroux (brother)
Peter Theroux (brother)
Justin Theroux (nephew)

He is the father of British authors and documentary filmmakers Marcel Theroux and Louis Theroux, the brother of authors Alexander Theroux and Peter Theroux, and uncle of the American actor and screenwriter Justin Theroux.

Early life

Theroux was born in Medford, Massachusetts, the third of seven children,[2] and son of Catholic parents; his mother, Anne (née Dittami), was Italian American, and his father, Albert Eugene Theroux, was French-Canadian.[3][4] His mother was a former grammar school teacher and painter,[5] and his father was a shoe factory leather salesman for the American Leather Oak company,[5][6] residing at 11 Belle Avenue in Medford, Massachusetts.[5] Theroux was a Boy Scout and ultimately achieved the rank of Eagle Scout.

His brothers are Eugene, Alexander, Joseph and Peter.[5] His sisters are Ann Marie and Mary.[5]

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.[7][8] 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.[9] 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 in 1965 to teach English[10] 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.[11][12][13] During his time in Uganda, an angry mob at a demonstration threatened to overturn the car in which his pregnant wife was riding.[14] This incident may have contributed to their decision to leave Africa. The couple moved with their son Marcel to Singapore, where a second son, Louis, was born. 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.

Literary work

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, Jungle Lovers, and The Mosquito Coast. On his return to Malawi many years later, he found that Jungle Lovers, which was set in that country, was still banned. He recounted that in his book Dark Star Safari (2002).[15]

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.[16][17] 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). In 2015, he published "Deep South" detailing 4 road trips through the southern states of the United States. He is noted for his rich descriptions of people and places, laced with a heavy streak of irony, or even misanthropy. Nonfiction 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.

Personal life

His 2017 semi-autobiographical novel Mother Land (and an earlier related short story published in The New Yorker magazine and set in Puerto Rico) includes an older son from a college relationship; he and his unmarried partner are said to have given the boy up for adoption.

In Uganda, Theroux's friends found him a teaching position at Makerere University in Kampala. There he met Anne Castle, a British graduate student teaching at an upcountry girls' secondary school in Kenya, via Voluntary Service Overseas.[18][19][2] From 1967 to 1993, Theroux was married to Castle, who became a BBC World Service radio producer[20][21][2] and later a relationship counsellor.[22] They moved to South London, England in 1971, because it was cheaper than America.[2] They had two sons: Marcel and Louis, both of whom are writers and television presenters.

Theroux has been married to Sheila Donnelly, since November 18, 1995, of Hawaiian-Chinese descent, who runs a luxury travel/hotel PR agency.[23][24][25][26][27] He resides in Hawaii and Cape Cod, Massachusetts.[24][28]


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 published in 1995 in The New Yorker,[29] 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."[30] 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.

DOUBLE TALK: I was dismayed to read in your August 7th edition a story called “A. Burgess, Slightly Foxed” (Fact and Fiction), by Paul Theroux, in which a very unpleasant character with my name said and did things that I have never said or done. Let me immediately correct one serious misrepresentation. “Anne Theroux” says of the now late Anthony Burgess, “I must confess that I am not a fan,” and makes some fatuous comments about his portrayal of women. Nothing could be further from the truth. I have been a Burgess fan for as long as I can remember. In 1980 (the year before the events in the story), I interviewed him for the BBC World Service about his superb novel “Earthly Powers.” I treasure my copy, inscribed “To the Theroux family with fond regards” and signed by the author with several kisses. I would have been delighted to have Burgess to dinner at my house, but, alas, it didn’t happen.
- Anne Theroux, London, England (The New Yorker, August 18, 1995)[31]

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.[32] The two authors attempted a reconciliation in 2011.[33]

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.[34] 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."[35] 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".[35]

In a book review, John Ryle has disparaged Theroux's opinions[36] 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.[37]

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.[38]

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.[39]

In an op-ed in The New York Times on October 22, 2016, Theroux recommended that President Obama pardon John Walker Lindh. In the article, he compared his own Peace Corps volunteer outing in Malawi to the convicted American citizen who fought with the Taliban in Afghanistan.[40]

Select awards and honors

The following are the awards and honors bestowed on Theroux during his career.[41]




  1. "Paul Theroux". Bookclub. September 1, 2013. BBC Radio 4. Retrieved January 18, 2014.
  2. "Paul Theroux". Retrieved 20 October 2018.
  3. The International Who's Who 2004. Routledge. 2003. p. 1668. ISBN 1-85743-217-7.
  4. Cheuse, Alan (June 4, 1989). "A worldly education Paul Theroux imagines a much-traveled writer's active erotic life". Chicago Tribune.
  5. Atlas, James (April 30, 1978). "The Theroux Family Arsenal". Retrieved 20 October 2018.
  6. Current Biography Yearbook, H. W. Wilson Co., 1979, page 415
  7. "More About Paul Theroux (Malawi 1963–65) – Peace Corps Worldwide". Retrieved 21 October 2018.
  8. "Paul Theroux: The Malawi I Loved". Departures. Retrieved 21 October 2018.
  9. Living on the Edge: Paul Theroux, Peace Corps Writers
  10. "Paul Theroux on Kenya's Fadhili William". 9 May 2017. Retrieved 21 October 2018 via
  11. Patrick French's biography of VS Naipaul: Naipaul's friendship with Paul Theroux, Daily Telegraph, 23 Mar 2008
  12. "Tribute to a man of short simple sentences – The East African". 31 August 2018. Retrieved 21 October 2018.
  13. "Subscribe to read". Financial Times. Retrieved 21 October 2018.
  14. Dave McKean, Barron Storey, Marshall Arisman, Bill Sienkiewicz, Paul Theroux. Edge. Vanguard Productions (NJ), 2003, page 60 ISBN 9781887591461
  15. Dark Star Safari by Paul Theroux, page 329, Penguin edition publ. 2002, ISBN 978-0-14-028111-8
  16. Archived 2007-09-28 at the Wayback Machine
  17. "The Great Railway Bazaar: By Train Through Asia by Paul Theroux". Powell’s Books.
  18. Jordan, Justine (30 September 2017). "Marcel Theroux: 'Keep the life normal, and keep the work weird'". the Guardian. Retrieved 20 October 2018.
  19. "Peace Corps Online: 2007.08.15: August 15, 2007: Headlines: Figures: COS – Malawi: Writing – Malawi: John Coyne Babbles: Paul Theroux: Peace Corps Writer". Retrieved 20 October 2018.
  20. "BBC Radio 4 FM – 23 February 1989 – BBC Genome". Retrieved 20 October 2018.
  21. "BBC World Service – The Maoris of New Zealand". BBC. Retrieved 20 October 2018.
  22. "Therapy Today July 2016" (PDF). Retrieved 20 October 2018.
  23. Editors, CNT. "The World's Most Traveled People on Why Now Is the Golden Age of Travel". Retrieved 20 October 2018.
  24. "Famous Author Summers in Sandwich", Cape Cod Today, 3 September 2008
  25. "PROFILE: Theroux builds an island firm with a stream of clients". Retrieved 20 October 2018.
  26. "'I feel lost in Hong Kong': why travel writer Paul Theroux finds the city 'impenetrable'". Retrieved 20 October 2018.
  27. "The Honolulu Advertiser – Island Life". Retrieved 20 October 2018.
  28. Wadler, Joyce. "BOLDFACE NAMES". Retrieved 20 October 2018.
  29. The New Yorker, August 7, 1995.
  30. The New Yorker, September 18, 1995, p.14.
  31. "New Yorker Magazine 1995 09 18". Retrieved 20 October 2018 via Internet Archive.
  32. "V.S. Naipaul, Paul Theroux, and me: What I learned from reading about their tumultuous relationship". 23 September 2018. Retrieved 21 October 2018.
  33. Nelson, Dean (12 August 2018). "V.S Naipaul and Paul Theroux in emotional Jaipur Literature Festival reunion" via
  34. Paul Theroux, Ghost Train to the Eastern Star, p. 320.
  35. PAUL THEROUX (December 15, 2005). "The Rock Star's Burden". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-08-05.
  36. Theroux, Paul. "Africa's Aid Mess". Retrieved 21 October 2018.
  37. John Ryle, "Review: Dark Star Safari by Paul Theroux", The Guardian, 2 November 2002.
  38. Paul Theroux, "Author Paul Theroux on his final African journey", USA Today, 23 May 2013.
  39. Interview with Eleanor Wachtel, CBC Radio, 30th International Festival of Authors, Toronto, October 25, 2009.
  40. Theroux, Paul (October 22, 2016). "Pardon the American Taliban". New York Times.
  41. "Book Paul Theroux events, speaking, lectures".
  42. "Fiction Awards".
External video
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

Paul Theroux at Library of Congress Authorities, with 109 catalog records}

Works by or about Paul Theroux in libraries (WorldCat catalog)

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