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Riding the Iron Rooster: By Train Through China Paperback – December 8, 2006


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books; 1 edition (December 8, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0618658971
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618658978
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.5 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #524,332 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

"[Theroux's] books have enriched the travel literature of this century...China, with its guard down, its buttons undone, and its fingers greasy, looks even more magical with a little of its mystery revealed." USA Today

"[A] very funny, beautifully written, wonderfully observant, and deeply insightful description of the vagaries of life and politics in China." -- Conde Nast Traveler

"Fascinating...the portrait that emerges is a luminous, almost uncanny, and situationally accurate one. Theroux is particularly good at catching the surreal quality of China." The Miami Herald

"Theroux's genius is in his clear-eyed rendition of a fresh world and the deeper observations he attaches to it." The Chicago Tribune

About the Author

PAUL THEROUX's highly acclaimed novels include Blinding Light, Hotel Honolulu, My Other Life, Kowloon Tong, and The Mosquito Coast. His travel books include Ghost Train to the Eastern Star, Dark Star Safari, Riding the Iron Rooster, The Great Railway Bazaar, The Old Patagonian Express, and The Happy Isles of Oceania. He lives in Hawaii and on Cape Cod.


More About the Author

Paul Theroux's highly acclaimed novels include Blinding Light, Hotel Honolulu, My Other Life, Kowloon Tong, and The Mosquito Coast. His renowned travel books include Ghost Train to the Eastern Star, Dark Star Safari, Riding the Iron Rooster, The Great Railway Bazaar, The Old Patagonian Express, and The Happy Isles of Oceania. He lives in Hawaii and on Cape Cod.

Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
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Though I will never ride a train through China, I enjoyed reading about his.
Allemrac
This is a fabulous armchair travel of China, a detailed description of the beautiful, the ugly and the strange parts of that vast country.
SharonL
In my late 20's, my dad gave me an extra (1st ed.) copy of Riding the Iron Rooster he'd found at a book sale.
Just a Mom

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By N. Nelson on December 16, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is an often hilarious and extremely informative look into Chinese culture and geography from a travel standpoint. Very enjoyable for anyone who likes Chinese culture, as well as those who know little to nothing about it (which was once me). It was on a college class list of mine, but now I buy it for people. A good read, tho he does get slightly vulgar from time to time.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By SharonL on January 11, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I actually read this book nearly twenty years ago and have never forgotten it. I was so pleased to find it available at Amazon.com. One of the things that especially stuck with me was the eating habits of the Chinese at that time---fascinating! Never forgotten was the pail of eels in the "bathroom" ready for the evening meal.
This reading I was able to take more time with the book and get more out of it because I wasn't working and raising three children. I even looked up Paul Theroux on Encarta to get a feel for his personality.
This is a fabulous armchair travel of China, a detailed description of the beautiful, the ugly and the strange parts of that vast country. I highly recommend it!
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 4, 2010
Format: Paperback
Welcome to Paul Theroux's idiosyncratic brand of travel writing. The opening chapters are hilarious - Theroux joins a tour but spends most of it trying to avoid his fellow travellers, whom he dislikes. They become suspicious of him in turn when he is constantly seen to be writing.

There are many moments of dark humour, such as when Theroux answers the call of nature on a train at midnight, only to find a bucket of dead eels on the floor next to the (very dirty) toilet. The next day in the dining carriage he asks what's on the menu, and receives the disturbing reply: "Eels!"

It should be remembered that this book was written back in 1988, but while dated it provides an interesting and perceptive snapshot of a country on the threshold of change between Maoism and capitalism.

The book contains many interesting insights, for instance: "One of the weirder Chinese statistics is that 35 million Chinese people still live in caves. There is no government program to remove these troglodytes, but there is a scheme to give them better caves. It seemed to me a kind of lateral thinking. Why rehouse or resettle these cave-dwellers? The logical solution was to improve their caves. That was very Chinese."

Or: "Mao was once asked what he thought of the French Revolution, and replied: "It's too early to say."

Other insights are more humorous: "Perhaps John Maynard Keynes to [the Chinese] was like D.H. Lawrence for us, and I tried to imagine what forbidden, dark, brooding supply-side economics might be like."

Or disturbing: "It is the belief of many Chinese I met that animals such as cats and dogs do not feel pain. They are on earth to be used - trained, put to work, killed and eaten.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Carolyn Barrette on February 19, 2007
Format: Paperback
The book, like a long train trip, gets tiring after a while, but Theroux loves traveling this way. His observations of the people, land and culture are well worth reading.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Just a Mom on August 23, 2011
Format: Paperback
For years I saw The Great Railway Bazaar and other early Theroux books on my dad's bookshelf. In my late 20's, my dad gave me an extra (1st ed.) copy of Riding the Iron Rooster he'd found at a book sale. I wasn't really that interested but lacking something compelling to read that evening, I picked it up...and was absolutely hooked. I've read every travel memoir and non-fiction book by Theroux and have to admit that this one was special - the book that got me started on travel writing and all these wonderful journeys to places I'll never probably go myself. True life is so much more interesting than fiction, I found.

The description of the trains, the people riding the trains, the stations, the strange conversations, the food, the odors, the varied landscape, the buildings - were all so vivid and fascinating - and so utterly different than my safe little plush American world. Of course by this time in 2011, there's been some change to China but it still shouldn't take away from the experience of traveling with Theroux. The snapshot of history read now is just as interesting as read near the time he traveled in my opinion.

Some say Theroux is a curmudgeon and maybe he gets more so in his later books but it really didn't bother me. He's the ultimate people watcher and is quite entitled to his observations! I routinely recommend Theroux to friends - moms like me who don't get to travel extensively. Or, at all. Even if you're not interested in China per se, this may just suck you in as it did me.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Troy Parfitt on December 23, 2011
Format: Kindle Edition
From curmudgeon to comedian, Paul Theroux plays many roles. So too does China, and this is why they make such a good match. Riding the Iron Rooster drags in places, but to that end it only mirrors actual travel. It isn't just about the destinations, but the time spent between the destinations, or in this case the time the author spends riding China's trains. Readers looking for an informative history of the Great Wall or an amusing anecdote concerning the Terracotta Warriors will have to look elsewhere. Theroux shuns tourist sites almost as much as he shuns tourists. When he does encounter a famous place, he often gives it a one-line assessment. He sums up Beijing's abundant cultural offerings as "very big and very impressive." Of China's biggest Buddha statue, he adds, 'and probably the ugliest.'

There is no doubt that Theroux can be caustic, but his cold appraisals should ring true for anyone who has traveled in China, at least to some degree. The problem with many China books is that they are often penned by people who are besotted by the Middle Kingdom and don't wish to offend. But Paul Theroux doesn't care who he offends. In any of his books. Period. He's just trying to be honest, a quality that, for some odd reason, irks people. Perhaps such individuals would be better off with fiction.

Despite a penchant for intellectual snobbery and a misanthropic streak (and what writer worth their salt doesn't exhibit these qualities?), one thing Theroux is exceptionally good at is getting in on the ground level and talking to the people. This makes for many of the volume's brighter and more revealing moments, like when he asks to see a commune and a group of Cantonese laugh so hard they almost fall over.
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