"What makes Mr. Theroux most persuasive as a writer is simply his willingness to put himself on the line . . . A gutsy, personal, and astonishing writer." New York Times
"Supremely moving. A master class in detail and sensuous evocation." Financial Times
Infused with characters and places informed by Paul Theroux's lifetime of travel, The Stranger at the Palazzo d'Oro and Other Stories brings the reader seven intriguing tales of memory and desire. Written in part during the African journey recounted in the epic travelogue Dark Star Safari, this "decadent, engrossing collection" (Mail on Sunday) shows Theroux in top form. In a previous work of fiction, the acclaimed best-selling Hotel Honolulu, Theroux blurred the line between novel and short story as he followed the guests of a rundown Waikiki hotel, applying his "characteristic sharp wit" to sketch a colorful cast of characters. In Palazzo, his first collection of short fiction in seven years, Theroux again shows his mastery of the craft. The characters and settings are as eclectic as those of the author's own experience: a twenty-one-year-old artist in Sicily, a New England schoolboy, an aging and neglected African writer, a wealthy retiree in Hawaii. "America's master traveler" (Kirkus Reviews) renders each landscape with equal flair, each eccentric character with the familiarity of an old friend.
In the title story, an aging Gilford Mariner recalls his experiences as a twenty-one-year-old artist touring the world. In Sicily, he meets a German countess and her ambiguous companion, Haroun, at a hotel not far from the former villa of D. H. Lawrence. Mariner's lust for the countess soon ensnares him in a complex affair from which he cannot escape until he can understand the secrets of her past.
In "A Judas Memoir," comprising four stories about male rites of passage and sexual awakenings in a town near Boston, Theroux deftly portrays boys and teenagers confronted with manifestations of sexuality that encompass both arousal and distress.
The collection shifts from innocence to experience with "An African Story." (Movie rights to this story have been sold to the producer James Ferrari, who plans to start filming in South Africa in 2004.) Here, a young American writer recalls Lourens Prinsloo, an overlooked South African author who had been something of a mentor to him. The aging Prinsloo becomes enmeshed in a sexual intrigue made more complex and destructive by the racial tensions of a divided land.
Theroux is certainly well conversant with the places he writes about. He grew up in Medford, Massachusetts, held his first teaching job in Italy, and now lives in Hawaii. He draws his deep understanding of Africa from his time in the Peace Corps and subsequent journeys, including the extended overland trip he made for his unforgettable adventure Dark Star Safari.
In Hotel Honolulu, Theroux uses the central setting of the hotel to bring out the common longings of seemingly disparate characters. In Stranger, he lays bare the frailties of men and boys in a wide range of settings. The intriguing mix of voices is as authentic as any of the real-life characters Theroux has actually met on his many journeys.
Paul Theroux was born and raised in Medford, Massachusetts, where he attended public schools (he and classmate Michael Bloomberg, the future mayor of New York City, were both Eagle Scouts). Theroux graduated from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst with a science major and intended to pursue a career in medicine, but his desire to travel and his passion for writing derailed his plans to become a doctor.
Before Theroux made a name as a professional writer, he taught in various countries. His first job and his best as a salaried employee was as a lecturer in English at the University of Urbino in Italy. The university was housed in a duke's palace, and all Theroux's students were young Italian women. Beginning in 1963, he taught school with the Peace Corps at a school in central Africa and lived in the bush. In 1965 that position was "terminated early" when he was accused of "engaging in politics." In reality, he had merely driven a friend's car from Malawi to Uganda but unfortunately, that friend had been forced to leave the country for siding with the opposition. For the next four years Theroux served as a lecturer in English at Makerere University, in Kampala, Uganda, where he met and married his first wife. In 1968 he moved to Singapore and joined the English Department at the University of Singapore.
In 1967 Theroux's first novel, Waldo, was published. Late in 1971 he gave up teaching to write full-time and moved to England, where he lived off and on for the next seventeen years.
Theroux virtually reinvented the genre of travel writing, beginning with The Great Railway Bazaar: By Train Through Asia, published in 1975 by Houghton Mifflin. Since then he has dazzled critics and readers alike with books about his trips through China (Riding the Iron Rooster and Sailing Through China), Great Britain (The Kingdom by the Sea), India (The Imperial Way), Latin America (The Old Patagonian Express), the Pacific islands (The Happy Isles of Oceania), and the Mediterranean (The Pillars of Hercules).
In addition to his fourteen works of nonfiction and criticism, Theroux is the author of twenty-four novels, including Hotel Honolulu, Kowloon Tong, My Other Life, and Millroy the Magician. His novels Saint Jack, The Mosquito Coast, and Half Moon Street have been made into successful feature films, and he has won the prestigious Whitbread Prize for Picture Palace and the James Tait Black Award for The Mosquito Coast.
During his travels in the Pacific, Theroux came to love Hawaii. He is now married to a Hawaiian woman and they live in the woods on the North Shore of Oahu, among many birds and geese and bees, which form his apiary Theroux is also a beekeeper. He spends summers on Cape Cod, not far from where he grew up.
The Stranger at the Palazzo d'Oro and Other Stories, his newest work of fiction, will be published in January 2004.