Written 20 years after the Cultural Revolution and 3 years before Tiannamen Square, the book the book still is a useful portrait.
Probably not the China of today, but Theroux's account of his year-long train odyssey crisscrossing that country in the 1980's is an in-depth description of the people he met and the countryside he saw. He has all-consuming curiousity and is not afraid to ask any question that comes to his mind. This trait results in tidbits throughout the book that make human the people we meet. Westerners are introduced to a population that is just coming out of the Cultural Revolution masterminded by Mao and now trying to remake their lives as part of the larger world. The detail of the narrative makes his fellow passengers, the townspeople he meets, the landscape, and the crush of bodies everywhere real and vivid. For me, this is as successful as his other travelogues in getting down to ground-level, getting past the monuments and the tourist highlights to the ordinary people of a region. Great read.
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