Monday 31 July 2023

🇫🇷 Paris in July 2023 - Summary 🇫🇷

Another Paris in July has passed. This year, Emma @ Words and Peace has kindly taken over as the host. She has given us the opportunity to link all our posts concerning the topic and you can find the results here. The picture  at the top is also created by her.

The books I read this month that concern Paris (or France in general) are:

Canetti, Elias "Die Blendung" (Auto-da-Fé) - 1935
Ernaux, Annie "The Years" (FR: Les années) - 2008
Guiliano, Mireille "French Women Don’t Get Fat" - 2004
Orwell, George "Down and Out in Paris and London" - 1933

Wickert, Ulrich "Frankreich muss man lieben, um es zu verstehen" [You have to love France to understand it] - 2017

I haven't watched all of these this year but I thought I add a list of the movies I know that take place in Paris.
"Amélie" w. Audrey Tautou - 2001
"An American in Paris" w. Gene Kelly, Leslie Caron - 1951
"The Aristocats" - Disney - 1970
"Before Sunrise" w. Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy - 1995
"Before Sunset"
w. Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy -  2004
"La Boum" (The Party) and "La Boum 2" (The Party 2) w. Sophie Marceau, Claude Brasseur - 1980 + 1982
"Charade" w. Audrey Hepburn, Cary Grant - 1963
"The Da Vinci Code"
w. Tom Hanks, Audrey Tautou - 2006
"Un éléphant ça trompe énormément" (Pardon mon affaire) w. Jean Rochefort, Claude Brasseur - 1976
"L'Etudiante" (The Student) w. Sophie Marceau, Vincent Lindon - 1988
"Forget Paris" w. Billy Crystal, Debra Winger - 1995
"French Kiss" w. Meg Ryan, Kevin Kline - 1995
"Funny Face" w. Audrey Hepburn, Fred Astaire - 1957
"Gigi" w. Leslie Caron, Maurice Chevalier, Louis Jourdan - 1958
"Jules et Jim" from François Truffaut w. Jeanne Moreau - 1962
"Madeline" w. Frances McDormand, Nigel Hawthorne - 1998
"Maigret" w. Rowan Atkinson - 2016-17:
"Maigret Sets a Trap"
"Maigret's Dead Man"
"Maigret: Night at the Crossroads"
"Maigret in Montmartre"
"Maigret" w. Michael Gambon (internationally probably most widely known for his role as Professor Dumbledore in the Harrry Potter movies) - 1992-93
"Les Misérables" by Victor Hugo w. Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway - 2012
"Moulin Rouge" w. Nicole Kidman, Ewan McGregor - 2001
"Paris, je t'aime" w. Juliette Binoche - 2006
"Ratatouille" - Disney/Pixar - 2007
"Sabrina" w. Audrey Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart - 1954
"Sabrina" w. Julia Ormond, Harrison Ford - 1995

Friday 28 July 2023

Canetti, Elias "Auto-da-Fé"

Canetti, Elias "Auto-da-Fé" (German: Die Blendung) - 1935

For the The Classics Spin #34, we were given #13, and this was my novel.

What a book! Did I like it? Hm, hard to tell. It is described as grotesk, obscure, weird, … And weird it is.

The book tells the story of Peter Kien, a sinologist and philologist who lives very reclusively in his apartment with his books. He marries his housekeeper but he slides more and more into madness.

Peter's brother Georg is a famous psychologist in Paris. Alerted by one of Peter's acquaintances, he comes to Vienna in order to help but, alas, is not successful.

This is a very complex book that cannot possibly be explained in a few words. Its a book of obsession and criticism, of society at the time but also a warning about what was to come. After all, this was two years after the nazis gained power in Germany and many people, like the author, feared for the future. And they were right, as it turned out.

The meaning of the English title is explained in Wikipedia:
An auto-da-fé (/ˌɔːtoʊdəˈfeɪ, ˌaʊt-/ AW-toh-də-FAY, OW-; from Portuguese auto da fé [ˈawtu ðɐ ˈfɛ], meaning 'act of faith'; Spanish: auto de fe [ˈawto ðe ˈfe]) was the ritual of public penance carried out between the 15th and 19th centuries of condemned heretics and apostates imposed by the Spanish, Portuguese, or Mexican Inquisition as punishment and enforced by civil authorities. Its most extreme form was death by burning.

The book was first published in English with the title "The Tower of Babel".
The translation of the original titel "Die Blendung" would be translated into "Blinding as a punishment", "Glare", "Deception", or even in the sense of "Verblendung" as "Infatuation". All these words could be used as the title of the book. In the German book description, it is said that "like Joyce's 'Ulysses', 'The Blinding' is a powerful metaphor for the lonely reflective mind's confrontation with reality." Sounds correct to me.

Book Description:

"'Auto-da-Fé' is the story of Peter Kien, a distinguished, reclusive sinologist living in Vienna between the wars. With masterly precision, Canetti reveals Kien's character, displaying the flawed personal relationships which ultimately lead to his destruction.

Manipulated by his illiterate and grasping housekeeper, Therese, who has tricked him into marriage, and Benedikt Pfaff, a brutish concierge, Kien is forced out of his apartment - which houses his great library and one true passion - and into the underworld of the city. In this purgatory he is guided by a chess-playing dwarf of evil propensities, until he is eventually restored to his home. But on his return he is visited by his brother, an eminent psychiatrist who, by an error of diagnosis, precipitates the final crisis...

Auto-da-Fé' was first published in Germany in 1935 as 'Die Blendung' ('The Blinding' or 'Bedazzlement') and later in Britain in 1947, where the publisher noted Canetti as a 'writer of strongly individual genius, which may prove influential', an observation borne out when the author was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1981. 'Auto-da-Fé' still towers as one of the greatest novels of the twentieth century, and Canetti's incisive vision of an insular man battling agianst the outside world is as fresh and rewarding today as when first it appeared in print."

Elias Canetti received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1981 "for writings marked by a broad outlook, a wealth of ideas and artistic power".

I contribute to this page: Read the Nobels and you can find all my blogs about Nobel Prize winning authors and their books here.

Since this book takes partly place in Paris, it can also go with the project #parisinjuly2023.

Thursday 27 July 2023

#ThrowbackThursday. Song of Saigon


Sawyer, Anh Vu "Song of Saigon: One Woman's Journey to Freedom" - 2003

A highly interesting book. One of our book club members knew the author who was coming to visit this part of Europe, so we read the book and had a remarkable evening with a personality that you don't find that often.

Born in Vietnam, Anh Vu fled Saigon in 1975 with her family. A young medical student tells her dramatic and very touching story of both her different lives.

We discussed this in our international book club with the author in April 2004.

Read my original review here

Tuesday 25 July 2023

🇫🇷 Paris in July 2023: Book Giveaways 🇫🇷

As I mentioned in my earlier post (see here), July is with us again and so is Paris in July. This year, Emma @ Words and Peace has kindly taken over as the host. The picture  at the top is also created by her.

Now, she has arranged some interesting giveaways with novels about France, books about French artists, French cooking. The  that are open to all, not just to #parisinjuly2023 participants, so be sure to head over to Emma's page (here) and see whether you can't win one of those books.

🍀 Good Luck! 🍀 Bonne Chance! 🍀

Monday 24 July 2023

Fermor, Patrick Leigh "Between the Woods and the Water"

Fermor, Patrick Leigh "Between the Woods and the Water: On Foot to Constantinople from the Hook of Holland" - 1986

This travel book was recommended to me by a book club member, she loved it and since we often like the same books, I was willing to read it. This is the second part in a trilogy, the first one being "A Time of Gifts: On Foot to Constantinople: from the Hook of Holland to the Middle Danube", the last one "The Broken Road: From the Iron Gates to Mount Athos".  Maybe I should have read the first one first as that has the better reviews but this is the book that was lent to me with the remark, it doesn't matter in which order you read them.

I love travel books and this trip from Hungary through Romania to the Bulgarian border seemed interesting. Written before the faschists took over in Europe, it was alos an interesting time-frame.

However, I did not care much for the writing. It seemed more like the diary of a teenager written for himself, and that's probably what it was since the author was only 18 when he made this journey.

I liked the historical parts that he probably added later but as a travel book, it was far too boring. He does mention the people he meets and tells a few stories but one does not have the feeling that we are there, that we travel with him.

He might have improved in later years as he received a knighthood but I doubt I will pick up one of his books soon again.

From the back cover:

"The acclaimed travel writer's youthful journey - as an 18-year-old - across 1930s Europe by foot began in A Time of Gifts, which covered the author's exacting journey from the Lowlands as far as Hungary. Picking up from the very spot on a bridge across the Danube where his readers last saw him, we travel on with him across the great Hungarian Plain on horseback, and over the Romanian border to Transylvania. The trip was an exploration of a continent which was already showing signs of the holocaust which was to come. Although frequently praised for his lyrical writing, Fermor's account also provides a coherent understanding of the dramatic events then unfolding in Middle Europe. But the delight remains, 20 years after first publication, in travelling with him in his picaresque journey past remote castles, mountain villages, monasteries and towering ranges."

Thursday 20 July 2023

#ThrowbackThursday. More by Carlos Ruiz Zafón


Everybody knows Carlos Ruiz Zafón's Cemetery of Forgotten Books. But he has written more books that are just as great. So, if you loved The Shadow of the Wind, The Angel's Game, The Prisoner of Heaven, The Labyrinth of the Spirits and The City of Mist and haven't read any others of his books, there are some surprises wiating for you.

Ruiz Zafón, Carlos "The Prince of Mist" (E: El príncipe de la niebla) - 1993

A fantastic ghost story, very mystical, very exciting.

A family moves from the city to the beach in order to flee from the war. They move into an old house whose previous owner died. As soon as they arrive, strange things start to happen.

Read my original review here.

Ruiz Zafón, Carlos "The Midnight Palace" (El Palacio de la Medianoche) - 1994

This story takes place in India. I guess a lot of the story would not have been as plausible in Europe.

Eight young people who are the best of friends, each one of them a hero or heroine in itself, some adults who are also very "good". Lots of twists add to the suspension and if you start reading this book, you might not want to put it down before you have finished it.

Read my original review here.

Ruiz Zafón, Carlos "Watcher in the Shadows" (E: Las luces de Septiembre) - 1995

Shadows, Ruiz Zafón loves shadows, it's amazing what he can do with shadows …

A family in France in 1937. After the death of her father, Irene's mother moves with her children from Paris to a remote place in Normandy, a mysterious mansion inhabited by a toymaker who lives there with his sick wife.

Read my original review here.

Ruiz Zafón, Carlos
"Marina" (E: Marina) - 1999

Even darker than any of his other novels.

Barcelona plays a major role and one gets the idea that it is full of secret and forbidden streets and alleyways that everyone would like to explore.

Óscar and Marina, the protagonists of this story, come across a mysterious character, someone who should have been dead a long time ago.

Read my original review here.

Ruiz Zafón, Carlos "Gaudí in Manhattan" (E: La Mujer de Vapor) - Gaudí in Manhattan - 2009

A short story about a young architecture student who can go to New York with his much admired hero Antonio Gaudí.

A magic realism story like no other with some great illustrations and pictures in the booklet.

Read my original review here.

Find links to all my other Carlos Ruiz Zafón reviews here.

Tuesday 18 July 2023

Top Ten Tuesday ~ Books With One-Word Titles


"Top Ten Tuesday" is an original feature/weekly meme created on the blog "The Broke and the Bookish". This feature was created because they are particularly fond of lists at "The Broke and the Bookish". It is now hosted by Jana from That Artsy Reader Girl.

Since I am just as fond of them as they are, I jump at the chance to share my lists with them! Have a look at their page, there are lots of other bloggers who share their lists here.

This week, our topic is Books With One-Word Titles.

I found a lot of books with one word titles.
I could have probably done a whole month of TTTs. So, which ones to choose. Some of them I have used in several TTTs before, others were not necessarily my favourites. So, in the end I decided to use (mainly) those words that are a little unusual, some that we might never have heard of and definitely not those we would use every day. I hope you like the selection. There are classics among them, funny stories, sad ones, and they are from all over this world and also out of this world. Here they are:

Shteyngart, Gary "Absurdistan" - 2006
Stephenson, Neal "Anathem" - 2008
Şafak, Elif "Araf" (aka The Saint of Incipient Insanities) - 2004
Mann, Thomas "Buddenbrooks: The Decline of a Family" (GE: Buddenbrooks) - 1901 (Nobel Prize for Literature 1929)
Herbert, Xavier "Capricornia" - 1938
Solstad, Lexidh "Catpasity" - 2015
Lee, Min Jin "Pachinko" - 2017
Ionesco, Eugène "Rhinoceros" (F: Rhinocéros) - 1957
Atkinson, Kate "Transcription" - 2018
Frazier, Charles "Varina" - 2018

They are all interesting, some of them a little weird, understandable given the reason I chose them but I can recommend them all.

📚 Happy Reading! 📚

Monday 17 July 2023

Osman, Richard "The Man Who Died Twice"


Osman, Richard "The Man Who Died Twice" (Thursday Murder Club #2) - 2021

After reading "The Thursday Murder Club", I knew I would have to carry on reading his other books. Even though I am not a crime fun - his books are so much more than that.

The four elderly friends are on the path again to solve a crime, or rather several of them. And the suspense is really high. I am never someone to know whodunnit but I think this one is hard to solve even for the best sleuths.

The characters are as loveable as ever. And they all have their own little problems that aren't often as easy to solve as the murders. But that makes them even nicer and more normal.

Would be nice if everyone could be as active at the age of seventy plus as the four friends. In any case, I will carry on following their quests. As soon as the next book is out in paperback.

From the back cover:

"It's the following Thursday.

Elizabeth has received a letter from an old colleague, a man with whom she has a long history. He's made a big mistake, and he needs her help. His story involves stolen diamonds, a violent mobster, and a very real threat to his life.

As bodies start piling up, Elizabeth enlists Joyce, Ibrahim and Ron in the hunt for a ruthless murderer. And if they find the diamonds too? Well, wouldn't that be a bonus?

But this time they are up against an enemy who wouldn't bat an eyelid at knocking off four septuagenarians. Can the
Thursday Murder Club find the killer (and the diamonds) before the killer finds them?"

Thursday 13 July 2023

#ThrowbackThursday. Some Joyce Carol Oates Books

I have read several books by JCO and loved them all. Now, I don't want to look back at them all at the same time but these were the first five of her that I read:

Oates, Joyce Carol "We Were the Mulvaneys" - 1996

True, the Mulvaneys are a happy family, a special kind of family, they are rich, beautiful, have a fantastic live, a wonderful home, own a huge farm and everybody envies them. Until that event on Valentine's Day after which the whole world changes An interesting story about how one incident can destroy someone but how determination can bring them up again.

Read my original review here.

Oates, Joyce Carol "Dear Husband, stories" - 2009

The stories are very different, different outcomes, none of them very nice, though. A lot of mother-son problems. I don't have those kind of problems but - as a mother of two teenage sons - could relate to a lot of them.

Read my original review here.

Oates, Joyce Carol "Middle Age" - 2001

A man dies and all of a sudden all his skeletons come out of the closet. A very interesting story about life in a small town and how everyone tries to hide everything from each other. Everybody knows everyone and everybody knows everyone's secrets, yet, everyone tries to pretend they don't. Sounds familiar? If not, you have probably lived in a large town all your life.

Read my original review here.

Oates, Joyce Carol "The Falls" - 2004

"A man climbs over the railings and plunges into Niagara Falls. A newlywed, he has left behind his wife, Ariah Erskine, in the honeymoon suite the morning after their wedding."

This is how the story begins. The "Widow Bride" starts a new life but her past catches up with her.

The novel left me devastated. Great read.

Read my original review here.

Oates, Joyce Carol "The Gravedigger's Daughter" - 2007

Joyce Carol Oates didn't disappoint me with this novel, either. A story of new beginnings and good-byes, of violence and murder, a search for identity, "The Gravedigger's Daughter" is a gripping, very exciting book you just cannot put down.

Read my original review here.

Find links to all my other Joyce Carol Oates reviews here.

Wednesday 12 July 2023

Mid Year Book Freakout Tag 2023

I found this meme on Read with Stefani's page. What a great idea. Here is the original tag. This is my third year of participating.

1. Best book you’ve read so far in 2023
Brooks, Geraldine "People of the Book" - 2008

2. Best sequel you’ve read so far in 2023
Ruiz Zafón, Carlos "The City of Mist" (E: La Ciudad de Vapor - El cementerio de los libros olvidados #5) - 2020

3. New release you haven't read yet but want to
Frazier, Charles "The Trackers" - 2023 (Goodreads)

4. Most anticipated release for the second half of the year
I usually wait for new releases in paperback but it is hard to find which ones will come out this year, so I have listed a few books by authors I like who will release a new book this year, however, it might take a while until the paperback version is available:
Follett, Ken "The Armour of Light" (Goodreads)
Krug, Norma "Diaries of War" (Goodreads)
Oates, Joyce Carol "48 Clues into the Disappearance of My Sister" (Goodreads)
Whitehead, Colson "Crook Manifesto" (Goodreads)

5. Biggest disappointment
Kazantzakis, Nikos "The Last Temptation of Christ" (GR: Ο τελευταίος πειρασμός, O telefteos pirasmos) - 1951

6. Biggest surprise
Ibrahimi, Anilda "Red Like a Bride" (IT: Rosso come una sposa/Rot wie eine Braut) - 2008

7. Favourite new author. (Debut or new to you)
Dangarembga, Tsitisi "Nervous Conditions" - 1988

8. Newest fictional crush
Not my thing.

9. Newest favourite character
Defne from
Şafak, Elif "The Island of Missing Trees" - 2021
10. Book that made you cry
I don't really cry over books as I explained last year. Growing up among boys, I learned not to cry too easily. But if I did, it would probably be one of these:
Abulhawa, Susan "Against the Loveless World" - 2020
Keefe, Patrick Radden "Say Nothing. A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland" - 2018

11. Book that made you happy
I don't really read "happy" books. But funny ones make me happy:
Bythell, Shaun "Seven Kinds of People you Find in Bookshops" - 2020

12. Most beautiful book you’ve bought so far this year (or received)
I think the most beautiful book cover I got this year is this one. And the content is beautiful, as well.
Hislop, Victoria "Maria's Island" - 2021

13. What books do you need to read by the end of the year?
I haven't even finished many of the ones I had on this list last year and therefore, will keep them here. But there are quite a few on myother  various challenge lists.

Ackroyd, Peter "Dominion: The History of England from the Battle of Waterloo to Victoria's Diamond Jubilee. Volume V" - 2018 (Goodreads)
Canetti, Elias "Die Blendung" (Auto-da-Fé) - 1935
Ernaux, Annie "Les années" (FR) (The Years) - 2008
Gaiman, Neil "Coraline" - 2002 English
Hawes, James "The Shortest History of Germany - A Retelling for Our Times" - 2017 (Goodreads)
Körner, Torsten "In der Männer-Republik. Wie Frauen die Politik eroberten" (GE) [In the men's republic: how women conquered politcs] - 2020 (Goodreads)
Pamuk, Orhan "Manzaradan Parçalar: Hayat, Sokaklar, Edebiyat" (TR) [Pieces from the View: Life, Streets, Literature] (German translation: Der Blick aus meinem Fenster) - 2008 (Goodreads)
Poe, Edgar Allan "The Murders in the Rue Morgue and other stories" - 1941-1945
Sadat, Jehan (جيهان السادات Dschihan as-Sadat) "A Woman of Egypt" - 1987 (Goodreads)
Wickert, Ulrich "Frankreich muss man lieben, um es zu verstehen" (GE) [You have to love France to understand it] - 2017

14. Favourite Book Community Member

I mentioned last year that this is just as impossible as to say which is your favourite child or which is your all-time favourite author or book. There are so many wonderful people in the blogging community.

Books read so far: 51

* * *

I'm not going to tag anyone but I'm sure a few of you will want to do this. So, feel free to follow that idea but, please, let me know. And Stefani, I'm sure she'll like to know how many are picking up that idea.

Tuesday 11 July 2023

Top Ten Tuesday ~ Female Authors


"Top Ten Tuesday" is an original feature/weekly meme created on the blog "The Broke and the Bookish". This feature was created because they are particularly fond of lists at "The Broke and the Bookish". It is now hosted by Jana from That Artsy Reader Girl.

Since I am just as fond of them as they are, I jump at the chance to share my lists with them! Have a look at their page, there are lots of other bloggers who share their lists here.

This week, our topic is a Freebie.

I haven't done many lists lately but I had the idea the other day to do a list of my favourite female authors (or at least some of them) since I had a few conversations with people who mentioned they read too few books written by women. Well, here are some of my favourite writers with one of their best books.

Allende, Isabel "Island Beneath the Sea" (E: La isla bajo el mar) - 2010
Austen, Jane "Persuasion" - 1817
Buck, Pearl S. "Peony" - 1948 (Nobel Prize for Literature 1938)
Ephron, Nora "I Remember Nothing. And Other Reflections" - 2010 (short stories)
Hislop, Victoria "The Island" - 2005
Kingsolver, Barbara "The Lacuna" - 2009
Lawson, Mary "Crow Lake" - 2002
Morrison, Toni "Beloved" - 1987
(Nobel Prize for Literature 1993)
Oates, Joyce Carol "We Were the Mulvaneys" - 1996
Walker, Alice "The Color Purple" - 1982

I have read several books all all of the authors, some of them several times. Give them a try.

📚 Happy Reading! 📚

Monday 10 July 2023

Buck, Pearl S. "Portrait of a Marriage"

Buck, Pearl S. "Portrait of a Marriage" - 1945

Another interesting book by Pearl S. Buck, this time not an Asian story but one that is taking place in the United States and could happen to anyone. It's more a rich man - poor girl relationship but, like any books by Pearl S. Buck, well written. A good insight into marriage, what makes a good one and what doesn't. And still quite valid today, I think.

I have yet to find a book by Pearl S. Buck that I didn't like.

From the back cover:

"At the turn of the century, an upper-class painter from Philadelphia goes searching for inspiration. He finds his muse on a farm - the farmer’s beautiful and humble daughter. His portrait of her becomes one of his most inspired works, but his passion for the illiterate girl doesn’t stop at the easel: He returns to marry her and settle down to country life - a journey that means bridging enormous gaps between their cultures, breaking from his parents, and creating tension between their friends. Pearl S. Buck compassionately imagines both sides of the complex marriage, and in addition, creates a wonderfully vivid picture of America leading up to the Second World War.

Buck follows one woman's journey through a long-term marriage; its romanticized beginning, jolts of disillusionments and losses, and peace through acceptance and faith; as a metaphor for life.

Find other books by Pearl S. Book that I read here.

Pearl S. Buck received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1938 "for her rich and truly epic descriptions of peasant life in China and for her biographical masterpieces".

I contribute to this page: Read the Nobels and you can find all my blogs about Nobel Prize winning authors and their books here.

Friday 7 July 2023

Theroux, Paul "Riding the Iron Rooster"

Theroux, Paul "Riding the Iron Rooster" - 1988

The name Theroux is well known in the United Kingdom. Though not with the first name Paul but with that of his son, Louis. So, I had never read anything by the elder Theroux until I was given this book by one of our book club members.

I love travel books and this one doesn't make an exception. The author travelled through China in the 1980s, first with a travel group, then on his own. The members or the travel group are described the way that I would probably see them, as well. I have always preferred to travel with family or some good friends rather than some strangers that might turn out to be real bores or terribly annoying. But also when he carries on on his own, he is hardly ever alone as the Chinese like to give him a babysitter.

In any case, the descriptions of the voyage is interesting, the people he meets on the train, one is more weird than the other, the landscape is depicted to well that you can imagine seeing it yourself, the food seems to stand just in front of you.

I liked the interaction with the Chinese people and the exploring of areas where they hardly let any foreigner travel. A good book about a country still very unknown to us. I wonder what Paul Theroux would see today?

Some books, Paul Theroux was reading while "Riding the Iron Rooster":
Avedon, John "In Exile from the Land of Snows" - 1984 (Goodreads)
Balzac "Old Goriot" (FR: Le Père Goriot) - 1834 (Goodreads)
Lewis, Sinclair "Elmer Gantry" - 1927 (Nobel Prize in Literature 1930) (Goodreads)
Lewis, Sinclair "Main Street" - 1920 (Goodreads)
Morrison, Arthur "The Hole in the Wall" - 1902 (Goodreads)
Stevenson, Robert Louis "Kidnapped" - 1886 (Goodreads)

From the back cover:

"An eye-opening and entertaining account of travels in old and new China, by the author of The Great Railway Bazaar

Paul Theroux left Victoria Station on a rainy Saturday in April thinking that taking eight trains across Europe, Eastern Europe, the USSR and Mongolia would be the easy way to get to the Chinese border - the relaxing way, even. He would read a little, take notes, eat regular meals and gaze contentedly out of windows. The reality, of course, was very different. In fact, Theroux experienced a decidedly odd and unexpected trip to China that set the challenging tone for his epic year-long rail journey around that vast, inscrutable land - a journey which involved riding nearly every train in the country.