Paul Theroux has always had an extremely sharp eye for detail, and an even sharper pen with which to mold these observations into telling, sometimes ascerbic commentary. In “Riding The Iron Rooster”, Theroux is at the top of his form in capturing the flavor and collective psyche of mainland China during the last quarter of the 20th Century.
One of the more revealing angles put forth in “Iron Rooster” is the face-saving that the Chinese government has engaged in with respect to The Cultural Revolution. Everyone knows that what Mao Tse Tung did was monstrous, but few in China appear willing to own up to the magnitude of the sin in any public way; so half-measures are taken to pay “proper respect” to Mao at just the appropriate place and just the appropriate time.
The author also nicely captures the first wave of pro-capitalist fervor that began engulfing China in the late 80’s. But the core of Theroux’s book, as always, are the vivid snapshots of the customs, foibles and mores that constitute a culture.
Reading “Iron Rooster” as I boarded a plane in Hong Kong in 1994, I discovered I was about to experience, first-hand, the aeronautical and social turbulence that the author ascribed to Chinese plane travel. By the time I landed in Guangxi Province, all of his observations had been confirmed.
“Riding The Iron Rooster” is vintage Theroux – insightful, droll, always pleasurable.
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