The idea of being able to dive into a book and so escape on a trip around the world by train sounds like my idea of heaven. Especially when we’ve been stuck at home for months and the furthest I’ve been since early December is the supermarket and to collect the kids from their Dad’s house. Monisha Rajesh’s story of her trip on 80 separate trains around the world is a lovely travel fix, but at the same time left me feeling strangely flat.
The whole train twist on Around the World in 80 days is nice but I sadly had a gripe as soon as I opened this book. No where do you get a map showing the journey taken. How is that even possible???
The kids and I have been recently enjoying MG Leonard and Sam Sedgman’s Adventures on Trains series, and when they’ve spoken about the books and the wonderful work of their illustrator Elisa Paganelli one of the things that they focus on is the value of maps at the start of each book showing the train journey. The fact that Around the World in 80 Trains misses this out seems like a major omission. I spent quite a while whilst reading looking at my big world map on the wall and trying to plot the route on it myself.
I understand that Rajesh is a journalist by background and I have to say that some of the chapters in the book did feel quite journalistic in style. They contain fantastic information, and some lovely stories, but they didn’t absorb me in the way that some travel writing does. It just didn’t quite feel like I was always there with Monisha, and her now husband Jem, which is what I need right now during lockdown.
There is no doubt that the journey undertaken was fascinating, and there are certain parts of the book that have me wanting to find out so much more about where she went, the history (both ancient and modern) of some of the places, and also to find more travel writing about them. The 10 days that they spent on an organised train tour of North Korea make me want to do similar, but I’m also intrigued to learn more about Tibet and also Xinjiang and Kazakhstan. Any recommendations of follow on books gratefully received if you an leave them in the comments down below.
There were also parts of their journey that I wish more had been written about. I was hugely disappointed with their time in Russia. It was as if they didn’t really want to be there and hence hardly anything was written about Moscow in particular. One review I have read online (since finishing the book) talks about how it only really comes alive in the North Korea and Tibet chapters and I have to say that I totally agree. If there had only been the same level of detail about Russia and other places that they visited it would have been so much better. I was amazed that in some places she just wrote about how they got there and went straight to their hotel and watched a film on Netflix. I know the book was about train travel, but I just felt that saying nothing about some of their key destinations was wrong.
Around the World in 80 Trains was Rajesh’s second book after a first in which she travelled Around India in 80 Trains. With her family having previously moved from Sheffield to Madras for two years in hope of making India their home, I’m keen to learn not only about the trains of India, but also about how she describes the country and the experiences she has en route. I hope that the places she visited have the North Korea and Tibet levels of detail rather than that on Tokyo or Moscow!
Around the World in 80 Trains is available to buy online here.
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