RIDING THE IRON ROOSTER: BY TRAIN THROUGH CHINA
by Paul Theroux
Putnam; 480 pages; $21.95
"Grin like a dog and wander aimlessly." This gnomic advice for the wayfarer is offered by the world's pre-eminent train traveler in his wry, humorful and occasionally querulous account of a journey across China by rail. (The Iron Rooster of the title, locally known as the cheapskate express, is the train from Beijing to Urumqi.) As Theroux makes excruciatingly clear, traveling alone in the Middle Kingdom is not for the faint of heart or stomach: the food is mostly vile, the toilets are filthy, and drafty...