Paul Theroux
BornPaul Edward Theroux
(1941-04-10) April 10, 1941 (age 82)
Medford, Massachusetts, U.S.
  • Novelist
  • travel writer
  • short story writer
  • literary critic
EducationUniversity of Maine
University of Massachusetts, Amherst (BA)
  • Anne Castle
    (m. 1967; div. 1993)
  • Sheila Donnelly
    (m. 1995)

Paul Edward Theroux (/θəˈr/;[2] born April 10, 1941) is an American novelist and travel writer who has written numerous books, including the travelogue The Great Railway Bazaar (1975). Some of his works of fiction have been 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 and the 2021 television series of the same name.

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

Early life

Paul Theroux was born in Medford, Massachusetts, the third of seven children,[3] and son of Catholic parents; his mother, Anne (née Dittami), was Italian American, and his father, Albert Eugene Theroux, was of French-Canadian descent.[4][5] His mother was a former grammar school teacher and painter,[6] and his father was a shoe factory leather salesman for the American Leather Oak company.[6][7] Theroux was a Boy Scout and ultimately achieved the rank of Eagle Scout.

His brothers are Eugene, Alexander, Joseph and Peter. His sisters are Ann Marie and Mary.[6]

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.

According to his older brother Alexander, Paul affects a "fake British accent" despite growing up in a working-class Boston suburb.[8]


This section may be too long and excessively detailed. Please consider summarizing the material. (November 2022)

After he finished his university education, Theroux joined the Peace Corps in 1963 as a teacher in Malawi.[9][10] In a later life interview, he described himself as an "angry and agitated young man" who felt he had to escape the confines of Massachusetts and a hostile U.S. foreign policy.[11] At the time, the Peace Corps was relatively new, having 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 in 1965.[12] He was declared persona non grata by Banda in Malawi for sympathizing with Yatuta Chisiza.[13] 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[14] at Makerere University, where he also wrote for the magazine Transition. While at Makerere, Theroux began his friendship with Rajat Neogy, founder of Transition Magazine, and novelist V.S. Naipaul, then a visiting scholar at the university.[15][16][17] During his time in Uganda, an angry mob at a demonstration threatened to overturn the car in which his pregnant wife was riding, and Theroux decided to leave Africa.[18][19]

In November 1968, the couple moved with their son Marcel to Singapore, where a second son, Louis, was born.[20] After two years of teaching at the National University of Singapore, Theroux and his family settled in England in November 1971. They lived first in Dorset, and then in south London. When his marriage ended, early in 1990, Theroux returned to the United States, where he has since settled.[21]

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). They had a long friendship, but Theroux said that events during the 26 years between the two books colored his perspective in the later book.[22] The two authors attempted a reconciliation in 2011[23] after a chance meeting at the Hay Literary Festival, an episode described in postscript to the subsequent paperback edition of Sir Vidia’s Shadow, and remained close friends until the death of Naipaul in 2018.[24]

His novel Saint Jack (1973) was banned by the government of Singapore for 30 years.[25] Both were banned because they were considered too critical of the government's leader(s), or cast the country in an unfavorable light. All Theroux's books were banned by the apartheid government in South Africa, but in 1995 after South Africa's transition to democracy, under the presidency of Nelson Mandela, the South African Department of Education made Theroux's “The Mosquito Coast” required reading as a set book for 12th grade students sitting their final (“Matric”) exam.

In 2001, prior to his 60th birthday, Theroux returned to Africa to retrace his footsteps and "[take] the pulse of the continent." Despite undergoing various hardships during the trip, he came away with a positive impression of Africa and African people and optimistic views of its future.[26] However, his experiences soured his attitudes towards foreign tourists and activists. He wrote about this journey in the book Dark Star Safari.[27]

Theroux has criticized celebrity activists like Bono, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie as "mythomaniacs, people who wish to convince the world of their worth."[28] 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".[28]

In a 2009 interview, he stated that he now has "the disposition of a hobbit," and had become more optimistic than in his youth. He further commented that he "need[s] happiness to write well."[11]

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 association with rebel ministers and own unwitting involvement, while a Peace Corps volunteer, in a plot to assassinate President Hastings Banda of Malawi (noted above) to the complexities in the case of the convicted American citizen[29] who fought with the Taliban in Afghanistan.[30]

Literary work

See also: Paul Theroux bibliography

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).[31]

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.[32][33] The Nigerian reviewer Noo Saro-Wiwa writes “Theroux’s book The Great Railway Bazaar (1975) sold 1.5 million copies and is often credited with launching the travel-writing boom of the late twentieth century."[34] 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 four road trips through the southern states of the United States. In 2019 he published On the Plain of Snakes, his account of his extensive travels in his own car throughout Mexico.[35] 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.

Theroux has worked extensively with the celebrated photographer Steve McCurry. Their book The Imperial Way appeared in 1987, and McCurry's photographs are included in Theroux's Deep South[36] and On the Plain of Snakes[35]. Magazines such as Smithsonian and the National Geographic have paired Theroux and McCurry on assignments.[37]

A number of Theroux's books have been made into movies. His 1972 novel Saint Jack was filmed by Peter Bogdanovich in 1979, and starred Ben Gazzara.[citation needed] His novella Doctor Slaughter was filmed as “Half Moon Street,” in 1986, with Michael Caine and Sigourney Weaver.[citation needed] Peter Weir's film “The Mosquito Coast” (1986) had Harrison Ford, Helen Mirren and River Phoenix in the cast.[citation needed] Theroux's set of short stories The London Embassy became a six-part TV series on British television in 1987.[38] “Christmas Snow,” a 1986 TV movie starring Sid Caeser was adapted from Theroux's novel London Snow[39]. Theroux wrote the Hong Kong story on which the Wayne Wang film Chinese Box (1997) was based.[citation needed] In 2019, Apple Films announced that The Mosquito Coast was in production as a ten-part series that was broadcast in 2021.[citation needed]

Personal life

His 2017 semi-autobiographical novel Mother Land (and earlier related short story in The New Yorker magazine, set in Puerto Rico) refer to an older son born in Puerto Rico in 1961 whither his college girlfriend and he had travelled for the birth, giving the baby up for adoption; later, Theroux's son returned into his life.[40]

When Theroux was in Uganda, his 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.[41][42][3] They married in 1967. After leaving Asia and Dorset, they moved to South London in 1971, because it was cheaper than the United States.[3] They had two sons: Marcel and Louis,[43] both of whom are writers and documentarians. Theroux and Castle divorced in 1993.

Theroux married a second time to Sheila Donnelly, on November 18, 1995. His wife runs a luxury travel/hotel PR agency.[44] They reside in Hawaii and Cape Cod, Massachusetts.[45][46]

In popular culture

Select awards and honors

Theroux has received numerous awards and honors.[49]




  1. ^ "Paul Theroux". Bookclub. September 1, 2013. BBC Radio 4. Retrieved January 18, 2014.
  2. ^ How to pronounce Paul Theroux (American English/US) -, retrieved 2023-01-19
  3. ^ a b c "Paul Theroux". People. Retrieved 20 October 2018.
  4. ^ The International Who's Who 2004. Routledge. 2003. pp. 1668. ISBN 1-85743-217-7.
  5. ^ Cheuse, Alan (June 4, 1989). "A worldly education Paul Theroux imagines a much-traveled writer's active erotic life". Chicago Tribune.
  6. ^ a b c Atlas, James (April 30, 1978). "The Theroux Family Arsenal". The New York Times. Retrieved 20 October 2018.
  7. ^ Current Biography Yearbook, H. W. Wilson Co., 1979, page 415
  8. ^ "WHO IS PAUL THEROUX?". The Independent. 1997-05-17. Retrieved 2023-07-06.
  9. ^ "More About Paul Theroux (Malawi 1963–65) – Peace Corps Worldwide". Retrieved 21 October 2018.
  10. ^ "Paul Theroux: The Malawi I Loved". Departures. Retrieved 21 October 2018.
  11. ^ a b Interview with Eleanor Wachtel, CBC Radio, 30th International Festival of Authors, Toronto, October 25, 2009.
  12. ^ "Dark Star Safari by Paul Theroux". the Guardian. 2002-10-05. Retrieved 2022-12-13.
  13. ^ "Living on the Edge: Paul Theroux - print version". Retrieved 2022-11-22.
  14. ^ "Paul Theroux on Kenya's Fadhili William". Wall Street Journal. 9 May 2017. Retrieved 21 October 2018 – via
  15. ^ Patrick French's biography of VS Naipaul: Naipaul's friendship with Paul Theroux, Daily Telegraph, 23 Mar 2008
  16. ^ "Tribute to a man of short simple sentences – The East African". 31 August 2018. Archived from the original on 31 August 2018. Retrieved 21 October 2018.
  17. ^ "The Masque of Africa". Financial Times. Archived from the original on 2022-12-10. Retrieved 21 October 2018.
  18. ^ Dave McKean, Barron Storey, Marshall Arisman, Bill Sienkiewicz, Paul Theroux. Edge. Vanguard Productions (NJ), 2003, page 60 ISBN 9781887591461
  19. ^ John Coyne. "Talking With Paul Theroux". Peace Corps Writers.
  20. ^ Migration (2014-11-09). "Paul Theroux's turning point in Singapore | The Straits Times". Retrieved 2022-11-08.
  21. ^ Standard, Kate Church, Evening (2012-04-11). "My London: Paul Theroux". Evening Standard. Retrieved 2022-11-08.((cite web)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  22. ^ "V.S. Naipaul, Paul Theroux, and me: What I learned from reading about their tumultuous relationship". 23 September 2018. Retrieved 21 October 2018.
  23. ^ Nelson, Dean (12 August 2018). "V.S Naipaul and Paul Theroux in emotional Jaipur Literature Festival reunion" – via
  24. ^ "V S Naipaul, Paul Theroux end 15-year feud". Deccan Herald. 2011-05-30. Retrieved 2022-07-20.
  25. ^ Paul Theroux, Ghost Train to the Eastern Star, p. 320.
  26. ^ Paul Theroux, "Author Paul Theroux on his final African journey", USA Today, 23 May 2013.
  27. ^ "Dark Star Safari: Overland From Cairo to Cape Town". Foreign Affairs. 2009-01-28. ISSN 0015-7120. Retrieved 2021-02-19.
  28. ^ a b Paul Theroux (December 15, 2005). "The Rock Star's Burden". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-08-05.
  29. ^ Theroux, Paul (2016-10-22). "Opinion | Pardon the American Taliban". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2022-07-20.
  30. ^ Theroux, Paul (October 22, 2016). "Pardon the American Taliban". The New York Times. The New York Times.
  31. ^ Dark Star Safari by Paul Theroux, page 329, Penguin edition publ. 2002, ISBN 978-0-14-028111-8
  32. ^ "". TRAVEL LITERATURE.ORG. Archived from the original on September 28, 2007.
  33. ^ "The Great Railway Bazaar: By Train Through Asia by Paul Theroux". Powell’s Books. Archived from the original on 2007-09-29.
  34. ^ "The Travel Writing Tribe by Tim Hannigan book review | The TLS". TLS. Retrieved 2022-07-20.
  35. ^ a b "Review: What happened when Paul Theroux bought an old Buick and set out across Mexico". Los Angeles Times. 2019-10-25. Retrieved 2022-07-20.
  36. ^ Teicher, Jordan G. (2015-11-24). "What Steve McCurry and Paul Theroux Saw When They Traveled Through the American South". Slate Magazine. Retrieved 2022-07-20.
  37. ^ Shavin, Naomi. "The Deep South, As Seen Through the Eyes of Renowned Photographer Steve McCurry". Smithsonian Magazine. Retrieved 2022-07-20.
  38. ^ "London Embassy". TV Guide. Retrieved 2022-07-20.
  39. ^ Shepard, Richard F. (1986-12-19). "TV WEEKEND; NBC's 'Christmas Snow,' Starring Sid Caesar". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2022-07-20.
  40. ^ Seminara, Dave (April 16, 2018). "Why Paul Theroux Loves Cape Cod". The New York Times.
  41. ^ Jordan, Justine (30 September 2017). "Marcel Theroux: 'Keep the life normal, and keep the work weird'". The Guardian. Retrieved 20 October 2018.
  42. ^ "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.
  43. ^ "The Year of the End by Anne Theroux, shows hell hath no fury like a writer's ex-wife". 8 July 2021.
  44. ^ "The Honolulu Advertiser – Island Life". Archived from the original on 28 March 2017. Retrieved 20 October 2018.
  45. ^ "Famous Author Summers in Sandwich", Cape Cod Today, 3 September 2008
  46. ^ Wadler, Joyce (10 April 2003). "BOLDFACE NAMES". The New York Times. Retrieved 20 October 2018.
  47. ^ Flight of the Phoenix, retrieved 2022-07-20
  48. ^ Pearl Jam - Never Destination Lyrics, retrieved 2022-07-20
  49. ^ "Book Paul Theroux events, speaking, lectures". Archived from the original on 2009-01-01. Retrieved 2008-10-06.
  50. ^ "Fiction Awards".
  51. ^ "American Academy of Arts and Letters Members".
External videos
video icon 92Y / The Paris Review Interview Series: Paul Theroux, December 18, 1989
video icon Book Discussion on Ghost Train to the Eastern Star, September 27, 2008
video icon Book Discussion on Dark Star Safari, APRIL 10, 2003