All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: Around The World In 80 Trains by Monisha Rajesh

on April 16, 2021

Around The World In 80 Trains
Monisha Rajesh
Bloomsbury
336, 2019
Read via my local library

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: When Monisha Rajesh announced plans to circumnavigate the globe in eighty train journeys, she was met with wide-eyed disbelief. But it wasn’t long before she was carefully plotting a route that would cover 45,000 miles – almost twice the circumference of the earth – coasting along the world’s most remarkable railways; from the cloud-skimming heights of Tibet’s Qinghai railway to silk-sheeted splendour on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express.

Packing up her rucksack – and her fiancé, Jem – Monisha embarks on an unforgettable adventure that will take her from London’s St Pancras station to the vast expanses of Russia and Mongolia, North Korea, Canada, Kazakhstan, and beyond. The ensuing journey is one of constant movement and mayhem, as the pair strike up friendships and swap stories with the hilarious, irksome and ultimately endearing travellers they meet on board, all while taking in some of the earth’s most breathtaking views.

From the author of Around India in 80 Trains comes another witty and irreverent look at the world and a celebration of the glory of train travel. Monisha offers a wonderfully vivid account of life, history and culture in a book that will make you laugh out loud – and reflect on what it means to be a global citizen – as you whirl around the world in its pages.

This was another book I specifically chose for the 2021 Read NonFiction Challenge, hosted by Shelleyrae @ Book’d Out. I also really like trains – I’ve caught the train between Melbourne and Sydney and also used the train that runs between Sydney and Brisbane to get from both Sydney and Newcastle to where my parents live. I would love to take the Ghan, a train that runs straight up the middle of Australia from Adelaide to Darwin. I’d also like to take the Indian-Pacific, which runs east/west across the country from Sydney to Perth. However, train travel is very expensive and these are luxury do-if-you-win-Lotto type of things. There are numerous train journeys overseas that sound really interesting too, so I thought this book would be a lot of fun.

The title is a bit misleading, as there are huge portions of the world that Monisha and her fiancé Jem do not visit, including most of the Southern Hemisphere: anywhere in Africa, Australia, South America etc as well as the Middle East are not represented here but there are quite decent portions of Europe, Russia, Asia, Canada and America. It also includes the pretty surprising North Korea, which does allow tourists to travel around the country by train, but only as part of a specific tour group and they are kept mostly away from the North Korean public.

I’m the first to admit that I’m not particularly adventurous – I don’t like ‘roughing it’ and I have pretty specific dietary restrictions that mean a lot of options are removed for me so travelling as Monisha does is something I enjoy reading about but wouldn’t particularly be able to do myself! A large portion of the trains are not exactly luxurious (it seems for one they are booked onto the wrong train, the ‘locals’ Trans-Siberian rather than the one the tourists use) but they enjoy this experience, even if some of the parts it comes with (like not the cleanest of amenities) are worthy of complaint.

There are parts I enjoyed about this much more than others: I think some of the train trip through Russia, especially around Lake Baikal, was interesting and I also enjoyed Canada (but honestly, expected much more description) and found journeys into places like North Korea and Tibet as well as the portion in China where the Uyghurs are really good also as it made Monisha reflect on her contributions towards the oppression of peoples by giving money and touring, gawking at locals like animals in a zoo. She has the opportunity to talk to people, get their opinions (such as the half Tibetan, half Hans Chinese woman in Tibet) and experience the way they’ve been raised, versus what we on the outside are being told. She’s welcomed by several in Tibet because although born in Britain, she’s of Indian heritage and Tibetans are grateful for the Indians who shelter their Dalai Lama, who has been unable to return to Tibet since the 1950s. I also really enjoyed the travel through Kazakhstan, which is a country that has interested me since I read On The Trail Of Genghis Khan by Tim Cope.

But there were other parts of the story where I felt I got bogged down in names of cities and towns and trains and where it felt infinitely less interesting. The part journeying through America was disappointing and although I enjoyed what there was described of Canada, I thought it could’ve gone much deeper. Parts of the journey get glossed over and look, they spent seven months doing this, I know you cannot expect descriptions of every single thing they see but I could’ve done with less about the sitting around reading or talking about how cramped the bunks were, which got a bit tedious around the time they got to double digits in number of trains taken. The part on Japan and the railroad was a nice inclusion of history and it’s balanced out by the horror of speaking to the daughter of a survivor of both bombs. Japan also provides a nice contrast because their trains are renowned world-wide for being highly efficient, running on time to the second as well as being immaculately clean and tidy and populated by polite travellers.

I know that separating this into stories focusing on each area doesn’t have the same ring to it, but I felt like it might’ve been an idea so that it didn’t feel like so much of a blur. I only just finished this and I’m struggling to recall what happened where. It was however, a nice way to read about places I’ll never actually visit, particularly North Korea. Even though I understood the author’s conflict about it, it was incredibly interesting to get a glimpse of such a closed country.

I’d definitely read Rajesh’s other book, Around India In 80 Trains which I feel might be a little more cohesive as it is at least, confined to the one country.

7/10

Book #59 of 2021

Around The World In 80 Trains counts towards my participation in the 2021 NonFiction Reader Challenge, hosted by Shelleyrae @ Book’d Out. It’s the third book I’ve read so far and I’m using it to tick off the category of Travel.

1. Biography

2. Travel

3. Self-help

4. Essay Collection

5. Disease

6. Oceanography 

7. Hobbies

8. Indigenous Cultures

9. Food

10. Wartime Experiences

11. Inventions

12. Published in 2021

Despite getting off to a bit of a late start in this challenge, I’m doing pretty well now! I’ve read 3/6 books as I chose the middle level but like last year, if I get that completed I will do my best to complete as many of the 12 prompts as I can.


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