Shadow of the Silk Road
by Colin Thubron
Starred Review. In his latest absorbing travel epic, Thubron (In Siberia; Mirror to Damascus) follows the course—or at least the general drift—of the ancient network of trade routes that connected central China with the Mediterranean Coast, traversing along the way several former Soviet republics, war-torn Afghanistan, Iran and Turkey. The author travels third-class all the way, in crowded, stifling railroad cars and rattle-trap buses and cars, staying at crummy inns or farmers' houses, subject to shakedowns by border guards and constant harassment—even quarantine—by health officials hunting the SARS virus. Physically, these often monotonously arid, hilly regions of Central Asia tend to go by in a swirl of dun-colored landscapes studded with Buddha shrines in varying states of repair or ruin, but Thubron's poetic eye still teases out gorgeous subtleties in the panorama. Certain themes also color his offbeat encounters with locals—most of them want to get the hell out of Central Asia—but again he susses out the infinite variety of ordinary misery. The conduit by which an entire continent exchanged its commodities, cultures and peoples—Thubron finds traces of Roman legionaries and mummies of Celtic tribesmen in western China—the Silk Road becomes for him an evocative metaphor for the mingling of experiences and influences that is the essence of travel. (July 3)
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From Bookmarks Magazine
Colin Thubron has spent a lifetime exploring Asia, and he displays his significant regional knowledge and experience in Shadow of the Silk Road. Universally acknowledged as one of our best living travel writers, Thubron brings to this book the astute perception for which he is known and the beautiful prose style he has honed for more than 40 years; what is even more impressive, however, is the incredible sense of enthusiasm he brings both to his journey and to his writing. As Jonathan Yardley wrote in the Washington Post, "Colin Thubron [is an] intrepid, resourceful and immensely talented writer who has made a career out of going to out of the way places and then writing brilliantly about them." Shadow of the Silk Road is Thubron at his best.
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Jonathan Keeble gives a superb reading of this captivating account of a 7,000-mile, eight-month journey from Xian, China, to Antioch, Turkey, along the ancient silk route. Traveling by foot, camel, taxi, truck, train, and cart, Thubron sleeps in yurts, mud huts, vermin-infested inns, and six-bunk train compartments as he traces the routeÕs history and encounters its present. Speaking Mandarin, Russian, and English, he talks with a colorful array of locals belonging to many countries, tribes, clans, and religious groups. Keeble captures the conversations vividly and paces the reading so that listeners hear every exhausted step, rail at each bribe-hungry petty bureaucrat, and thrill to the magnificence of the scenery. An amazing adventure, expertly told. R.E.K.Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2008, Portland, Maine-- Copyright © AudioFile, Portland, Maine --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
The Silk Road was an ancient trade route between China and the Mediterranean Sea, extending 7,000 miles and linking the Celestial Empire with the Roman one. Marco Polo followed the route on his journey to Cathay. Thurbron, the author of 15 other books, chronicles his trip along the legendary road from China into the mountains of Central Asia, across northern Afghanistan and the plains of Iran, and into Kurdish Turkey. He vividly describes the people he meets, the restaurants he eats in, the hotels in which he stays, and the beauty of the mountains, rivers, deserts, and trees. He talks to policemen, traders, farmers, camel drivers, and a band of pilgrims kneeling in the dunes to pray; he takes pleasure in remembering "food palaces worked by waitresses in crimson and gold-frogged uniforms who were giggling and careless" and an old woman asleep by a holy spring, her head resting on the gnarled trunk of a tree. An illuminating account of a breathtaking journey. George Cohen
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"Splendid…Sumptuously detailed, elegantly written and riveting...Thubron misses nothing."
New York magazine
"A fantastically descriptive writer, Thubron digs through the history of Central Asia...Perfect for vicarious travelers."
Lorraine Adams, New York Times Book Review
"Moving in a way that’s rare in travel literature...Thubron goes to places most other sojourners can’t."
Jonathan Yardley, Washington Post Book World
"[Thubron is] intrepid, resourceful . . . and immensely talented . . . a splendid book."
"A sublime travel writer…[Thubron captures] the...lives of ordinary people with lyricism, compassion, and wit."
San Francisco Chronicle
"Thubron has done it all, with sparkling grace . . . He is a brilliant brooder, artful in his melancholy."
Michael Kenney, Boston Globe
"[An] elegant account of a rough two years’ trek.:
"An exhausting journey and a marvelous book."
Timothy Farrington, New York Sun
"Fascinating…Mr. Thubron approaches other’s beliefs with curiosity and respect…[He writes with a seductive facility."
"An interesting portrait of lands and people not well known or appreciated."
Shadow of the Silk Road records a journey along the greatest land route on earth. Out of the heart of China into the mountains of Central Asia, across northern Afghanistan and the plains of Iran and into Kurdish Turkey, Colin Thubron covers some seven thousand miles in eight months. Making his way by local bus, truck, car, donkey cart and camel, he travels from the tomb of the Yellow Emperor, the mythic progenitor of the Chinese people, to the ancient port of Antioch—in perhaps the most difficult and ambitious journey he has undertaken in forty years of travel.
The Silk Road is a huge network of arteries splitting and converging across the breadth of Asia. To travel it is to trace the passage not only of trade and armies but also of ideas, religions and inventions. But alongside this rich and astonishing past, Shadow of the Silk Road is also about Asia today: a continent of upheaval.
One of the trademarks of Colin Thubron's travel writing is the beauty of his prose; another is his gift for talking to people and getting them to talk to him. Shadow of the Silk Road encounters Islamic countries in many forms. It is about changes in China, transformed since the Cultural Revolution. It is about false nationalisms and the world's discontented margins, where the true boundaries are not political borders but the frontiers of tribe, ethnicity, language and religion. It is a magnificent and important account of an ancient world in modern ferment.
About the Author
An award-winning novelist and travel writer, Colin Thubron's books include Among the Russians, In Siberia, and the New York Times bestseller Shadow of the Silk Road. He lives in London.