Analysis

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

“The Iron Rooster” is but one of the many trains that Paul Theroux rides on the dozens of side trips that filled his year-long journey across the countryside of China. RIDING THE IRON ROOSTER records his visits to major business, cultural, and industrial centers, including Beijing (Peking), Guangzhou (formerly Canton), and Manchuria, and to out-of-the-way villages along little-used rail lines that crisscross the landscape. Along the way, he converses with hundreds of locals, recording their sometimes funny, sometimes sad tales of life after Mao Tse-tung. In this highly personal narrative, he provides a careful record of his own experiences, too, poking fun at himself at times for his inability to adjust to some of the cuisine and to the bitter extremes of weather that his hosts seem to suffer stoically--and without heat or air conditioning.

Few contemporary writers have achieved the level of sophistication in travel literature that Theroux has reached in his “train books.” Like its predecessors, RIDING THE IRON ROOSTER is much more than a traveler’s diary. In the tradition of Marco Polo, Richard Hakluyt, and the great chroniclers of the nineteenth century, Theroux gives readers a sense of the culture which he visits and an assessment of its present in terms of its past. Thoroughly versed in the immediate background of China, including the painful and disruptive years of the Cultural Revolution, Theroux probes his interviewees for their reactions to the century of changes that have brought China from a closed society to its present condition as a leading Communist power.

Sources for Further Study

Booklist. LXXXIV, April 1, 1988, p. 1291.

Chicago Tribune. May 22, 1988, XIV, p. 1.

Kirkus Reviews. LVI, March 15, 1988, p. 442.

Library Journal. CXIII, June 15, 1988, p. 58.

Los Angeles Times Book Review. May 8, 1988, p. 5.

Maclean's. CI, August 15, 1988, p. 50.

The New Leader. LXXI, August 8, 1988, p. 20.

The New York Times Book Review. XCIII, June 19, 1988, p. 17.

Publishers Weekly. CCXXXIII, April 8, 1988, p. 80.

Time. CXXXI, May 16, 1988, p. 95.