An impressive 7-month adventure by rail, this book is a celebration of train travel. I enjoyed some parts of the book more than others, but overall it was an interesting trip and a valuable alternative to the white male travelogue. As a woman born in Britain to Indian parents, accompanied by her partner who’s half Malaysian, the author doubtless had a different perspective and experience. The title of the book is a little misleading as the focus is mainly on Japan, China, North Korea, Canada and Kazakhstan, steering clear of Australasia, Africa, the Middle East, South America and the Indian subcontinent. Although we go through Europe, the author evidently has little interest in it. The ’80 trains’ part of the title is correct, however.
Monisha’s ability to stay cheerful, make friends and sleep anywhere is enviable. Her enthusiasm for human stories (and trains, obviously) permeates the narrative. I did find her tone judgemental at times and felt that it would have been classier to merely describe people and let us make our own conclusions. I was also a little repulsed at her smugness when she met a trans person on a train and then mentally sneered at her fellow train passengers, whom she assumed were all conservative transphobics. Another element I disliked was the extremely frequent descriptions of food (not pleasant for a vegan to read), which unfortunately made her seem like a total glutton.
The chapter on North Korea was the most compelling. I learnt a lot from this book and feel as if I’ve travelled 45,000 miles in my armchair.
First published in 2019 by Bloomsbury.