Riding the Iron Rooster

Book Card  -  Volume 20  -  Book Review Number 2  -  Sat, Jun 1, 1991 2:02 PM

TITLE: Riding the Iron Rooster By Train Through China
AUTHOR: Paul Theroux

This book has been travelling with me for years, now: it's been my companion on numerous plane flights to Idaho, California, Washington, Massachussetts, Texas, and other states. Riding in my carry-on bag for months on end, it became an indispensable part of my travel paraphenalia. "Toothbrush? Check. Plane ticket? Check. Theroux? Check." Iron Rooster began to develop a personality, to become a dependable friend in the fast-paced life I live.

Last month I opened this book for the first time and began to read it. What I found was even better than I'd been promising myself; it was too good, in fact: A hundred pages in, I was mildly disturbed. Two hundred pages, and I was concerned. Three hundred, and I seriously considered putting the book back in my luggage, unfinished, for another year or two of aging. In short, this is one of those all-too-occasional books that is so good that one never wants it to end.

It's some weeks later, now, and the book is finished. Time flies, memories fade, and already I can't describe just what it is about this book that so struck me. I do remember thinking that if ever I take up writing, Theroux is the person whose style I would most like to emulate (this despite his abhorrence of air travel and apparent dislike of photographers as travelers).

As the subtitle of this book suggests, Theroux writes about travel by train, and he is generally regarded as the best in the world at this specialized job. I guess I won't reveal a single detail of this book - what's the point? - but if you're interested in foreign travel or foreign people, Paul Theroux just might be the ticket for you, too.

And that plane trip I'm leaving on in less than hour? Paul Theroux will be back in my carry-on, in The Kingdom By The Sea / A Journey Around Great Britain.