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RIDING THE IRON ROOSTER By Train Through China...

June 04, 1989|ELENA BRUNET


By Train Through China

by Paul Theroux

(Ivy Books: $4.95)

Paul Theroux spent the better part of a year (1986-87) traveling through China by train asking people questions about such subjects as the Cultural Revolution that even six years previously would have been considered worse than bad manners. "My children saw the Red Guards humiliate me," a professor says over dinner. Now that travel abroad is permitted, the professor continues, "Can you blame them for choosing to stay in Minnesota?"

Theroux captures the sights and sounds along his ride as well as sentiments that are more forthcoming today: the spittoons placed in restaurants to discourage spitting, the officials who search his luggage specifically for pornography ("considered vastly more dangerous than political propaganda").

While reviewer Jim Mann found Theroux's political analysis "simplistic," he called "Riding the Iron Rooster" "an epic account of China. . . . (This) talented writer has captured in one sprawling, extraordinary book all the craziness, the contradictions, the mixture of hope and despair, the wild swings between control and utter chaos."

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