Book Review of Pillars of Hercules

Pillars of Hercules
Pillars of Hercules
Author: Paul Theroux
Genres: Literature & Fiction, Travel
Book Type: Paperback
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This was a rather exhaustive travel narrative by Theroux (over 500 pages). Theroux is known for both his works of fiction and his travel books. This one was written in the mid 1990's and takes the reader on a journey around the Mediterranean that lasts over a year. In his travels, Theroux starts out at Gibraltar (the first pillar of Hercules) and works his way around the "Middle Sea" staying as close to the shore as possible, and winding up back at the second pillar across the straits at Ceuta in Morocco. He travels only by land or sea and documents his journey extensively. He also seeks out and talks about other authors who have lived and written about various locations along his route which makes this travelogue all the more interesting. He travels through Spain, France, and Italy with side trips to Mallorca, Corsica, and Sardinia. Then to the not too pleasant countries of Slovenia, Croatia, and Bosnia where the war with the Serbs was raging at the time. On to Albania which was another not too pleasant stop after being ruled under a Communist dictatorship for over 40 years. One of the features of the Albania landscape was the thousands of bunkers built there during the regime of Enver Hoxha who also proclaimed Albania to be an atheist state.

Theroux then took a break and went home, returning later on a cruise ship that went tho Greece and Turkey stopping at some of the islands along the way. He didn't have a very high opinion of Greece. From Istanbul, he wanted to travel overland to Syria but because of a delay in getting a visa, he traveled on a Turkish ship to Egypt, Israel, and Cyprus. Then after returning to Istanbul he did travel into Syria which he found to be quite interesting and included a visit to a very well preserved Crusader castle, the Krak des Chevaliers. Of course this was prior to the current civil war taking place in Syria. He then goes on a very circuitous route to Tunisia avoiding both Lybia and Algeria where it was unsafe to travel. Then finally on to Morocco by crossing back to Italy and Spain and then taking a ferry to Morocco after a wicked windstorm abates.

Overall, I really enjoyed this rather long narrative. I especially liked how he discussed other writers who had lived or traveled to some of the same locales. He actually visited a few of these writers including Naguib Mahfouz, a Noble prize winning author from Egypt. Theroux visited him in a hospital in Cairo shortly after an assassination attempt. He also visited Dorothy Carrington in Corsica who Theroux says wrote the best modern book on Corsica, Granite Island, and Paul Bowles in Tangier, Morocco. He also mentioned a few times that his brother, Peter Theroux, had translated many works in Arabic into English. One drawback of this book is that its a little dated being written over 20 years ago. Much has changed since then - especially after 9/11 - but I would still recommend this as a very interesting look at the Mediterranean. I've never been there and this is probably about as close as I'll ever come to it!