4 out of 5 stars
Seven months and having travelled 45,000 miles by trains all over the world, Monisha Rajesh and her fiancé were almost home enjoying the luxury of the Orient Express. Jem was flicking through her notebook looking at the places they had been and the railways that they had travelled on. Beginning at the Eurostar terminal they were across to the continent in record time, ready for their onward journey to Moscow. This was to be their longest journey, an epic eleven-day journey across the vastness that is Siberia before it neatly dropped them off in China.
They travel back and forth across the world, travelling through America, Canada, Kazakhstan, Mongolia and even a ventured into North Korea to see the public face of the dystopian state. The quality of the trains varied enormously too, the cool precise efficiency of the Japanese Bullet trains that whisked them across the country to the Vietnamese trains that left a lot to be desired with the quality and reliability. On each of the journeys, they engage with their fellow passengers teasing out stories from those travelling with them, sharing food and experiences and always hoping to make the connections to their next train. In some of the countries, she goes into a lot of detail, highlighting the political situation in Tibet or expanding on newsworthy stories to add depth to the narrative.
Part of the reason for travelling by train is that there is more opportunity to interact with the people around you, something that you don’t get travelling by car or even in a bus and I’m beginning to think that this is the way to travel. It is not always super fast, though some of the high-speed trains have made serious inroads into flying times, the main point of trains is to take the time to see the countries that you are passing through and absorb the culture in the places that you stop. A lot of the time in the book we only have fleeting glimpses from the train window of some of the countries they pass through. Thought that this was a shame, but it probably would have made the book twice as long. I really enjoyed this, she writes well and mixes the conversations and the places well to portray the ambience of that moment. I thought it was better than her previous book too. A refreshing take on the world that isn’t from someone who isn’t from a conventional background and who is prepared to engage and interact with the people who she meets, rather than merely observe. If there was one flaw though it is missing a map of her journeys and it would have been nice to have a list of the trains that she travelled on too.