Jun 19, 2001

I’ve met Paul Theroux twice, and both times he told me to take a hike … in a sense. The first time I met him was at a book signing in Chicago (my cousin Jackie Allen went with me), when Theroux was on a book tour for Happy Isles of Oceania. I told him I was interested in joining the Peace Corps, and he replied with an emphatic “Do it.” (He had been a PCV in Malawi in the ’60s, and got kicked out for political intrigue toward the end of his service.)

Five years and two Peace Corps applications later, I met him again, this time with Erin in Honolulu, where Theroux lived and was promoting his novel Kowloon Tong.

I told Theroux that Erin and I were about to go to Vanuatu to serve as PCVs.

“You’ll love it,” he said. “I’d pay to go there. Wait, I did pay to go there.” Vanuatu was one of his paddling destinations in Happy Isles.

Theroux’s latest novel is Hotel Honolulu, which I finished reading last night. I surfed happily through this book and its collection of creative sketches about the people who inhabit a second-tier hotel in Waikiki. Having lived in Honolulu, I enjoyed the references to island life and the cultural colors of Honolulu. Here’s one very poignant paragraph, spoken by an old-timer at the hotel:

“This was paradise once. That was lovely — I remember it. Before Pearl Harbor. Before the war. I was just a kid. Of course, it’s not paradise anymore. That’s why I like the name you gave the bar — Paradise Lost — because the only place that can truly be hell is the one that was once paradise.” He was silent and then said, “That’s what makes Whyans [Hawaiians] so sad.”

Read a review of Hotel Honolulu.| Read a profile of Theroux. | Read Theroux’s classic traffic narrative about the Orient Express.

Anton Zuiker

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