Review of ‘Around the World in 80 Trains’ by Monisha Rajesh

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.

9 thoughts on “Review of ‘Around the World in 80 Trains’ by Monisha Rajesh”

  1. This review reminded me of a friend who backpacked around Europe years ago who bragged she could wash her hair in the hand basin of a train’s bathroom!

    1. Wow, that is quite a feat, given how tiny those sinks are! I do admire people who are enthusiastic travellers.

  2. I’ve always enjoyed reading travel books and seeing that I don’t get to do much actual traveling these days, I may have to check this one out. The author coming across as judgemental and smug doesn’t appeal though.

  3. Shame to hear about some of the negative parts of the book but it definitely sounds like it took you an exciting journey!

  4. Gahhh I don’t like it when the author gets judge mental and her love for food is clearly shown lol I think I’d skip this. Great review, NS!

    1. I’m sure a lot of readers would enjoy the food descriptions but it wasn’t for me 😀 Thank you Jee.

  5. Interesting–though I have to be interested in the locations to really enjoy a travelogue. I am interested in train, however. Perhaps the author felt Europe’s gotten enough exposure?

    1. Good point about Europe and perhaps there isn’t a huge different in train travel in western Europe (just assumed it, I haven’t experienced train travel outside of England and one Eurostar trip to Paris) compared to the diversity found further afield.

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