Stranger on a Train: Daydreaming and Smoking Around America with Interruptions

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Overview

The book about America de Tocqueville might have written had he spent some time in the nation’s smoking sections

Using two cross-country trips on Amtrak as her narrative vehicles, British writer Jenny Diski connects the humming rails taking her into the heart of America with the track-like scars leading back to her own past. As she did in the highly acclaimed Skating to Antarctica, Diski has created a seamless and seemingly effortless amalgam of reflection and revelation. ...

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Stranger on a Train: Daydreaming and Smoking Around America with Interruptions

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Overview

The book about America de Tocqueville might have written had he spent some time in the nation’s smoking sections

Using two cross-country trips on Amtrak as her narrative vehicles, British writer Jenny Diski connects the humming rails taking her into the heart of America with the track-like scars leading back to her own past. As she did in the highly acclaimed Skating to Antarctica, Diski has created a seamless and seemingly effortless amalgam of reflection and revelation. Stranger on a Train is a combination of travelogue and memoir, a penetrating portrait of America and Americans that is at the same time an unsparing look in the mirror. Traveling and remembering both involve confronting strangers—those we have just met and those we once were—and acknowledging the play of proximity and separation. Diski has written a moving, courageous, and deeply rewarding book about who we are, and the landscapes through which we have passed to get there.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Distinctly Nabokovian. . .Funny, surprising and harrowing, Stranger on a Train delivers the kind of adventure travel we will always need: its discoveries aren’t new places but fresh new ways of seeing old ones." --The New York Times Book Review

"Stranger on a Train is not only a fun book (how un-British), it is an important book." --Los Angeles Times Book Review

"A dream of a writer...[Stranger on a Train] does what the best travel literature does: It takes you somewhere. . . lovely." --The Washington Post

"A strange and wonderful journey that reads like a synthesis of Sylvia Plath, Martin Amis and the new journalism of John McPhee." --The Times (London)

Ann B. Stephenson
This memoir/travelogue by the British author of Skating to Antarctica chronicles her journey from Europe to America by cargo ship, followed by two cross-country Amtrak trips. Diski's smoking habit serves as the storytelling vehicle as she desperately seeks out smoking sections throughout her travels in the increasingly health-conscious United States. Often assuming the role of listener, she records the tales shared by the diverse occupants of Amtrak's passenger cars, ultimately finding a piece of herself reflected in their lives. Diski's trek is an eloquent meditation on identity and individuality.
From The Critics
This memoir/travelogue by the British author of Skating to Antarctica chronicles her journey from Europe to America by cargo ship, followed by two cross-country Amtrak trips. Diski's smoking habit serves as the storytelling vehicle as she desperately seeks out smoking sections throughout her travels in the increasingly health-conscious United States. Often assuming the role of listener, she records the tales shared by the diverse occupants of Amtrak's passenger cars, ultimately finding a piece of herself reflected in their lives. Diski's trek is an eloquent meditation on identity and individuality. —Ann B. Stephenson
Publishers Weekly
"I am not a travel writer in any reasonable sense of the word," Diski confesses. "I do not feel compelled to bring the world to people, or meet interesting characters, or enlarge my circle of acquaintance. I just want to drift in the actual landscape of my destination." Despite the disclaimer, the British novelist (Only Human) does all of the above in this eloquent exploration of the psyche America's and her own. The work is divided into two parts. Journey One begins aboard a transatlantic cargo ship where Diski is among a handful of passengers en route to Savannah, Ga. From there, she takes Amtrak to Arizona. Journey Two takes place a year later as Diski circumnavigates the U.S. from New York's Penn Station to Portland, Ore., and back, stopping in the suburbs of Albuquerque to stay in the backyard trailer of a friend from the first sojourn. As in the Hitchcock thriller of (almost) the same title, strangers whom Diski befriends in the smoking sections, or "sin bins," of the trains divulge the details of their lives; Diski, however, plays it close to the vest, sharing intimacies with readers only about her difficult childhood, struggles with substance abuse and more. "I became remarkably unhappy at having been chosen to survive," she recollects after her first trip, comparing the experience of saying goodbye to her travel mates to leaving the psych ward of England's Lady Chichester Hospital at age 14. As she did in Skating to Antarctica: A Journey to the End of the World (1998), Diski again blurs the borders between traditional travelogue and memoir to create a transcendent work. (Oct.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
English novelist Diski (Only Human) mixes memoir and travelog in a sharp, vivid, but ultimately disappointing narrative written around two train journeys, one across the southern United States and the other around its perimeter. She begins each journey with seeming enthusiasm, but before long, she starts feeling that she has opened herself up too much to strangers. She then panics and withdraws, needing to hide away in her tiny cabin on the train. A short visit to the home of a woman she meets on the first journey ends in paranoid terror when Diski becomes convinced that the family won't let her leave. Intermittently, she flashes back to other times in her life, including an unhappy childhood and several episodes of severe depression. The places she visits (Phoenix, Chicago, Jacksonville) are entirely incidental to the story, the scenery is best seen through a train window, if at all, and the people she meets are unremarkable. In the end, Diski seems happiest when exiled to a dingy smoking car puffing desperately on a cigarette, heading home. Not a priority purchase. Linda M. Kaufmann, Massachusetts Coll. of Liberal Arts Lib., North Adams Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312422622
  • Publisher: Picador
  • Publication date: 8/6/2003
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.65 (d)

Meet the Author

Jenny Diski’s previous nonfiction books include Skating to Antarctica and The Dream Mistress. Her most recent novel is Only Human. She lives in Cambridge, England.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 5, 2004

    great trip

    Jenny Diski clearly had a great trip and this book proves how even a 'non-traveler' can fall beneath the spell of long-distance trains.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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