~I remember reading The Great Railway Bazaar (1978) yrs ago, & was fully entertained. When I ran across him riding the trains through out China (1988), I had my doubts it would be worthy of his original trans continental Euro, Middle East, Asia, Russia loop trip. He proved me wrong. So many misconceptions I had about China & it’s now 1.4 billion people. Written 10 yrs after the failure of Chairman Mao Zedung’s Cultural Revolution, author travels amongst the people & surprisingly obtains true, open opinions by it’s citizens, as well as their personalities & ways of life. Being somewhat of a celebrity, @ times he dines with a few upper authorities & highly educated Chinese. Yet, he prefers the roads less traveled, & absorbes the culture of every end of China. At the time, China had the desire to increase tourism & trade. (I’d say they’ve succeeded beyond their wildest dreams.) Little was my knowledge before reading, there is a great deal of historical data interwoven throughout this writing. Also a convenient 2nd pg reference map, @ times I’d follow up with google maps just for fun, I really enjoyed the extreme variations of climate, landscape & how vast China really is. Since written, many of the railways have been extended, such as the Qingzang train from Golmud to Lhasa,Tibet. Suggest SPL’s “Wild China” dvd before or after reading. PAUL THEROUX was also the author of The Mosquito Coast, later starring Harrison Ford in its adaptation for the screen, he’s written extensively on intercontinental rail travel. Wanna get away? Great reads awaiting, all aboard?
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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