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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.

Topics: The Middle East, Islam, Journeys, Asian History, Adventurous, China, Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey, East Asia, and Travelogue

Published: HarperCollins on Oct 13, 2009
ISBN: 9780061809620
List price: $8.99
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Colin Thubron has written this account of his 7000-mile trip along the Silk Road, from China to Turkey.At times I loved this book. Mr. Thubron encounters many interesting people in his journey and has an ability to draw out their stories, dreams, hopes and fears. Sometimes humourous, sometimes sad, his stories of the people were wonderful. They reminded me a bit of John Berendt's marvelous way of finding and introducing fascinating people to the reader.At other times -- unfortunately too many -- I found myself lost and confused. Mr. Thubron's descriptions of paintings and architecture, and his fictional conversations with an imaginary friend were beautifully written. He has a flair for description and evoking imagery that is unsurpassed. But too much of a good thing isn't a good thing. I often wondered "where is he again? What is he describing now?"Glad I read this, but I don't think I'll be looking for more by this author.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Very interesting - Thubron is clearly a very hardy and monastic soul seemingly perfectly suited to this lonely trip. He treats all the people he meets with genuine interest and gentle humour and copes with rugged conditions without over romanticising them, taking pain and privation without seeming to notice. Its a melancholy book; the former glories of the region are recalled and placed in stark contrast to the realities of today - or rather to 5 or 6 years ago. One suspects that some of the route might be more depressing today. And yet although Thubron is occasionally surprised by changes to places he's visited before (particularly in China) he is never sniffy about modernisation (as for example, Paul Theroux often is) and seems to be comfortable with change. I hadn't read any of Mr Thubron's travel writing in book form before (i have read short pieces in Granta) but I have a couple of his novels. But so enjoyable is his company that I will be buying more at the earliest opportunityread more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Another great travel retraces past journey on the Silk Road. Thubron brings shows the SR as the first instance of globalization weaving in the histories of people, language, traders, and goods. His writing style is poetic, almost surreal. Remarkable for his ability t...o travel to the most remote, desolate locations. Contrasting style to Paul Theroux.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
I liked this book, but I didn't love it. The idea of the book was initially fascinating to me: Travel down the old Silk Road and see what is still intact, relating a little ancient history and telling stories about the people that used the road in the past. I loved the ancient history and the stories about the people and places of the Silk Road. What irritated me were Thubron's conversations in his mind with an ancient traveler; these seemed silly to me.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Good premise and well-written, though I found the historical digressions a bit too frequent.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
A fascinating trail along the Silk Road, from Western China to Southern Turkey - Collin Thubron opens up Central Asia, and puts Iran, Afghanistan, the India subcontinent and China in historical relationship to each other.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
I really like this book. I should have reviewed it as soon as I read it, but better late than never. I have recently started reading travel books, as I want to get into the travel writing habit, I need to update my blog now!However, what I like about Colin Thubron's writing, is that he gets into the essence, the spirit, of a place that he visits. You get a sense of the history, albeit short, and it keeps you going right through the book. While it is about himself, he rarely gets sucked into the habit of putting himself first in every aspect of the writing. Definitely worth readingread more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Very well written and excellent character study. Extremely difficult content at times, given the holocaust as subject matter. Disturbing, compelling, unlovely.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
In Shadows of the Silk Road, Colin Thubron tells the story of his eight-month trip from Xian, China to Antioch, Turkey, along one of the many intertwining routes of the Silk Road. The trip took place in two segments in different years, broken by war in Afghanistan. If Thubron identified the years of his trip, I missed it, but am guessing he traveled in 2004 and 2005. With eight travel books under his belt, Thubron is apparently a celebrated author; still, I was awed by the strength of his writing. He excels at physical description; he deploys unexpected but perfectly chosen and revealing adjectives; he weaves threads of history through his story in a manner that gives it unity without slowing its pace. He also portrays himself with a matter-of-fact modesty. Thubron must have incredible stamina, as he regularly stays up late talking or drinking with younger men, then wakes up before dawn and wanders outside to look at his surroundings in the moonlight. He clearly also has a special kind of courage, traveling alone into situations in which he is wholly dependent on the decency of strangers. Yet, he doesn't make much of his accomplishments; he just shares his experiences. Finally, the man clearly does extensive homework before he starts on a trip, as he goes out of his way to visit interesting but obscure places.Despite its many strengths, the book isn't perfect. While Thubron stops a few days in various places to look around, he's never anywhere long. He gets into relatively deep conversations with virtual strangers, but he doesn't experience enough of the rhythms of life in specific places to draw on that as context for his conversations. At times, Thubron hangs speculations about broad social change -- the shift towards a market economy in China, or the discomfort with encroaching western consumer culture in Iran -- on the thin reed of a conversation with a single native who may not be typical of his or her society at all. Thubron also invents an imaginary interlocutor, an ancient Silk Road trader, with whom he debates at intervals during the book. The main role of the character is to deprecate Thubron's motives for traveling; these conversations seemed to me among the least effective segments of an otherwise compelling book.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
It is a privilege to go on a journey with Colin Thubron. Thubron is not only extremely well-versed in local history and culture, but he has a knack for languages as well. I knew the author spoke fluent Russian from reading "In Siberia" only to discover that he speaks enough Mandarin to make himself understood most of the time during his travels in China. The best part about this book and other Thubron travel books is when he is actually traveling. His descriptions are precise. His casual encounters with ordinary people are interesting, particularly when he arrives in Iran toward the end of his trip. Occasionally, the book bogs down when Thubron digresses into one of the many historical anecdotes. While I cannot help but be mpressed by the author's knowledge and research, I often found these passages frustrating because they were often too long and detailed (and some too obscure to be of general interest) that they detracted from the journey itself. Thubron has clearly established himself as one of the leading contemporary writers of travel literature, but I couldn't help but think that that reputation may have cowed his editors into allowing long weary passages slip by.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Thubron travels the length of the Silk Road, at least one of its many traces, and uncovers traces of what has the feel of lost history. Wonderfully written, Thubron's book intermingles contemporary observations with deep and rich historical asides. The breadth of his knowledge is humbling and brings to mind the like erudition that Patrick Fermor brought to A Time Of Gifts and Between The Woods And The Water. Thubron's acerbic tone sometimes echoes the travel writing of Paul Theroux.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Very Interesting Bookread more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Read all reviews

Reviews

Colin Thubron has written this account of his 7000-mile trip along the Silk Road, from China to Turkey.At times I loved this book. Mr. Thubron encounters many interesting people in his journey and has an ability to draw out their stories, dreams, hopes and fears. Sometimes humourous, sometimes sad, his stories of the people were wonderful. They reminded me a bit of John Berendt's marvelous way of finding and introducing fascinating people to the reader.At other times -- unfortunately too many -- I found myself lost and confused. Mr. Thubron's descriptions of paintings and architecture, and his fictional conversations with an imaginary friend were beautifully written. He has a flair for description and evoking imagery that is unsurpassed. But too much of a good thing isn't a good thing. I often wondered "where is he again? What is he describing now?"Glad I read this, but I don't think I'll be looking for more by this author.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Very interesting - Thubron is clearly a very hardy and monastic soul seemingly perfectly suited to this lonely trip. He treats all the people he meets with genuine interest and gentle humour and copes with rugged conditions without over romanticising them, taking pain and privation without seeming to notice. Its a melancholy book; the former glories of the region are recalled and placed in stark contrast to the realities of today - or rather to 5 or 6 years ago. One suspects that some of the route might be more depressing today. And yet although Thubron is occasionally surprised by changes to places he's visited before (particularly in China) he is never sniffy about modernisation (as for example, Paul Theroux often is) and seems to be comfortable with change. I hadn't read any of Mr Thubron's travel writing in book form before (i have read short pieces in Granta) but I have a couple of his novels. But so enjoyable is his company that I will be buying more at the earliest opportunity
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Another great travel retraces past journey on the Silk Road. Thubron brings shows the SR as the first instance of globalization weaving in the histories of people, language, traders, and goods. His writing style is poetic, almost surreal. Remarkable for his ability t...o travel to the most remote, desolate locations. Contrasting style to Paul Theroux.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
I liked this book, but I didn't love it. The idea of the book was initially fascinating to me: Travel down the old Silk Road and see what is still intact, relating a little ancient history and telling stories about the people that used the road in the past. I loved the ancient history and the stories about the people and places of the Silk Road. What irritated me were Thubron's conversations in his mind with an ancient traveler; these seemed silly to me.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Good premise and well-written, though I found the historical digressions a bit too frequent.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
A fascinating trail along the Silk Road, from Western China to Southern Turkey - Collin Thubron opens up Central Asia, and puts Iran, Afghanistan, the India subcontinent and China in historical relationship to each other.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
I really like this book. I should have reviewed it as soon as I read it, but better late than never. I have recently started reading travel books, as I want to get into the travel writing habit, I need to update my blog now!However, what I like about Colin Thubron's writing, is that he gets into the essence, the spirit, of a place that he visits. You get a sense of the history, albeit short, and it keeps you going right through the book. While it is about himself, he rarely gets sucked into the habit of putting himself first in every aspect of the writing. Definitely worth reading
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Very well written and excellent character study. Extremely difficult content at times, given the holocaust as subject matter. Disturbing, compelling, unlovely.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
In Shadows of the Silk Road, Colin Thubron tells the story of his eight-month trip from Xian, China to Antioch, Turkey, along one of the many intertwining routes of the Silk Road. The trip took place in two segments in different years, broken by war in Afghanistan. If Thubron identified the years of his trip, I missed it, but am guessing he traveled in 2004 and 2005. With eight travel books under his belt, Thubron is apparently a celebrated author; still, I was awed by the strength of his writing. He excels at physical description; he deploys unexpected but perfectly chosen and revealing adjectives; he weaves threads of history through his story in a manner that gives it unity without slowing its pace. He also portrays himself with a matter-of-fact modesty. Thubron must have incredible stamina, as he regularly stays up late talking or drinking with younger men, then wakes up before dawn and wanders outside to look at his surroundings in the moonlight. He clearly also has a special kind of courage, traveling alone into situations in which he is wholly dependent on the decency of strangers. Yet, he doesn't make much of his accomplishments; he just shares his experiences. Finally, the man clearly does extensive homework before he starts on a trip, as he goes out of his way to visit interesting but obscure places.Despite its many strengths, the book isn't perfect. While Thubron stops a few days in various places to look around, he's never anywhere long. He gets into relatively deep conversations with virtual strangers, but he doesn't experience enough of the rhythms of life in specific places to draw on that as context for his conversations. At times, Thubron hangs speculations about broad social change -- the shift towards a market economy in China, or the discomfort with encroaching western consumer culture in Iran -- on the thin reed of a conversation with a single native who may not be typical of his or her society at all. Thubron also invents an imaginary interlocutor, an ancient Silk Road trader, with whom he debates at intervals during the book. The main role of the character is to deprecate Thubron's motives for traveling; these conversations seemed to me among the least effective segments of an otherwise compelling book.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
It is a privilege to go on a journey with Colin Thubron. Thubron is not only extremely well-versed in local history and culture, but he has a knack for languages as well. I knew the author spoke fluent Russian from reading "In Siberia" only to discover that he speaks enough Mandarin to make himself understood most of the time during his travels in China. The best part about this book and other Thubron travel books is when he is actually traveling. His descriptions are precise. His casual encounters with ordinary people are interesting, particularly when he arrives in Iran toward the end of his trip. Occasionally, the book bogs down when Thubron digresses into one of the many historical anecdotes. While I cannot help but be mpressed by the author's knowledge and research, I often found these passages frustrating because they were often too long and detailed (and some too obscure to be of general interest) that they detracted from the journey itself. Thubron has clearly established himself as one of the leading contemporary writers of travel literature, but I couldn't help but think that that reputation may have cowed his editors into allowing long weary passages slip by.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Thubron travels the length of the Silk Road, at least one of its many traces, and uncovers traces of what has the feel of lost history. Wonderfully written, Thubron's book intermingles contemporary observations with deep and rich historical asides. The breadth of his knowledge is humbling and brings to mind the like erudition that Patrick Fermor brought to A Time Of Gifts and Between The Woods And The Water. Thubron's acerbic tone sometimes echoes the travel writing of Paul Theroux.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Very Interesting Book
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
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