Travel Spotlight

10 Questions for Paul Theroux

Writer Paul Theroux’s latest book, Under the Wave at Waimea (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), set in Hawaii, tells the story of Joe Sharkey, a legendary 60-something big-wave surfer, coming to terms with being past his prime—and a tragic accident that forever alters the way he sees life. We have always been struck by the fact that Theroux's writing—now more than 50 travelogues and novels that have set the gold standard for travel writing, from The Great Railway Bazaar: By Train Through Asia to On the Plain of Snakes: A Mexican Journey—get to the very essence of what it means to be human in the world and what is revealed when we open ourselves to it. So we asked Theroux to answer 10 rapid-fire questions about his new novel, out this week. Here, he tells about the novel's inspiration, living in Hawaii (a place he has called home on and off for more more than 30 years),  his favorite travel narratives and much more. In addition to the book, which we're already loving (and which will transport you instantly to Oahu), we're also excited for The Mosquito Coast, a television series based on his 1981 book, starring Paul’s nephew, Justin Theroux, premiering April 30th on Apple TV.Order your copy of Under the Wave at Waimea here, and listen to Paul's episode from the Indagare Global Conversations podcast here

How did you decide to write a book about surfing, Hawaii, and a big-wave surfer who surfed all over the world? I've lived in Hawaii for more than 30 years and surfers have been my friends—brave men and women. But the surfer in my novel Under the Wave in Waimea has a problem that has nothing to do with surfing—and the book is about his dealing with it, with the help of his English girlfriend.Can you talk a bit about your relationship to Hawaii and what makes it so special? I fell in love with a woman from Hawaii, then visited Hawaii and fell in love with it—saw it as the place where I might be happiest. And so it happened. It is not Paradise, but it suits me—the weather, the sea, the great food, the people, from many cultures, and underlying it all the Hawaiian culture, language and history. In the simplest terms, I am  most of the time in shorts and a t-shirt and flip-flops, writing in the morning, swimming in the afternoon and at home in the evening with the woman I love.What do you think are people’s misconceptions about Hawaii or what one thing do you hope people understand about it when they are visiting? Naturally, the short-time visitor sees surfaces—the palm trees, the sunsets, the big waves. But each island in Hawaii has an identity and many communities of people who work hard, are heavily taxed, and are raising families, overlooked by tourists and even many local politicians. And yet these hardworking people are the ones who make Hawaii run smoothly.Any must-dos for visitors to Hawaii or must misses? A visitor to Hawaii must, on the first day, go to the beach, stretch out on the hot sand and fall asleep, the heat healing those muscles.Do you see surfing as a metaphor for travel in any way?The metaphor is a wave. We all have waves in our lives—conflict, unemployment, illness, stress. The challenge is to ride that wave to shore without wiping out.What do you think is the best way for people visiting Hawaii to connect with the essence of the islands?Make a friend, if possible, and understand that the racial harmony of Hawaii might be a good thing in their hometown.Are you living on “an island of no bad days”? I think so—I have had a well-rewarded career, and to spend it in the sunshine is a blessing.You have written a lot of travel books but what surprised you about writing a book about a place where you live?The hardest subject to write about is where you live, the people you know intimately, your family and friends and familiar landscapes. Really, anyone can write about the klongs of Bangkok or a safari in Kenya.What is it about travel narratives that appeals to you?The narratives that I seek are those that describe the traveler enduring the worst—Geoffrey Moorhouse crossing the Sahara on foot in The Fearful Void, Wilfred Thesiger in Across The Empty Quarter, the kayaker Ed Gillett paddling from San Diego to Maui in The Pacific Alone, and the crowning achievement—The Worst Journey in the World—by Apsley Cherry-Garrard: Someone overcoming the odds rather than toying with his kedgeree in Ootacamund.Have you done any international travel since the pandemic began? No, but I drove cross-country in late 2020—Boston to Pasadena—great fun and very enlightening.Related: Indagare Global Conversations Podcast Episode 1.06: Paul TherouxOrder your copy of Under the Wave at Waimea here, and listen to Paul's episode from the Indagare Global Conversations podcast here

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