The Lost Heart of Asia

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Overview

A land of enormous proportions, countless secrets, and incredible history, Central Asia—the heart of the great Mongol empire of Tamerlane, site of the legendary Silk Route and scene of Stalin's cruelest deportations—is a remote and fascinating region. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the emergence of newly independent republics, Central Asia—containing the magical cities of Bukhara and Samarkand, and terrain as diverse as the Kazakh steppes, the Karakum desert, and the Pamir mountains—has been in a ...

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Overview

A land of enormous proportions, countless secrets, and incredible history, Central Asia—the heart of the great Mongol empire of Tamerlane, site of the legendary Silk Route and scene of Stalin's cruelest deportations—is a remote and fascinating region. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the emergence of newly independent republics, Central Asia—containing the magical cities of Bukhara and Samarkand, and terrain as diverse as the Kazakh steppes, the Karakum desert, and the Pamir mountains—has been in a constant state of transition. The Lost Heart of Asia takes readers into the very heart of this little visited, yet increasingly important region, delivering a rare and moving portrayal of a world in the midst of change.

Author Biography:

Colin Thubron is the prizewinning, bestselling author of several travel books. In Siberia, his most recent volume, is the final book in a masterful trilogy about the Russian landmass, following Where Nights Are Longest and The Lost Heart of Asia. He lives in London, England.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“An intrepid traveller who also writes beautifully, with wit and erudition.”–Spectator
San Francisco Examiner
One of the most masterful and compelling travel books I have read in along time. Thubron ... is at once astonishingly learned and astonishingly soulful, keenly attuned to the glories and the contradictions, the dreams and the despairs of past and present.
Newsday
Reading Thubron is the next best thing to being there.... His description is as rich with color and detail as the ochre, carnelian and peacock carpets in the mosques. He makes history burn with life.
New York Times Book Review
Interweaving the history of the area with conversations he has along the way, Mr. Thubron gives a strong overall impression of the ... pervasive unfocused homesickness of the new republics ... [and] tracks down key leftovers from Central Asia's colorful past.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780099459286
  • Publisher: Random House UK
  • Publication date: 6/22/2004
  • Pages: 384
  • Product dimensions: 5.06 (w) x 7.75 (h) x 0.87 (d)

Meet the Author

Colin Thubron is an acknowledged master of travel writing. His first books were about the Middle East—Damascus, Lebanon, and Cyprus. In 1982 he traveled in the Soviet Union, pursued by the KGB. From these early experiences developed his great travel books on the landmass that makes up Russia and Asia: Among the Russians; Behind the Wall: A Journey through China; The Lost Heart of Asia; In Siberia; and most recently, Shadow of the Silk Road.

Colin Thubron is an award-winning novelist as well as, arguably, the most admired travel writer of our time. He lives in London.

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Read an Excerpt

The Lost Heart of Asia

Chapter One

The sea had fallen behind us, and we were flying above a desert of dream-like immensity. Its sands melted into the sky, corroding every horizon in a colourless light. Nothing suggested that we were anywhere, or even moving at all. The last solid objects in the universe were the wing-tips of the plane. Yet when I stared at the faces dozing or brooding around me, I felt that only mine did not belong in this sun-stricken wilderness. They were wideboned faces, burnished and still. They slept.

We had turned along the forties 'latitude now, midway between Gibraltar and Beijing, into the world's heart. It was a childish concept, I suppose - that the world had a heart - but it had proved oddly durable. As a boy I had soon lost the notion that one day I might slither down the North Pole or run my fingertips along a, red-hot Equator. But unconsciously I had gone on feeling that somewhere in the core of the greatest land-mass, on earth, beyond more familiar nations, there pulsed another country, half forgotten, to which the rest were all peripheral.

Yet even on the map it was ill-defined, and in history only vaguely named: 'Turkestan', 'Central Asia', 'The Land beyond the River'. Somewhere north of Iran and Afghanistan, west of the Chinese deserts, east of the Caspian Sea (which lay far behind us now), -this enormous, secret country had turned in on itself. Its glacier-fed rivers - the Oxus and Jaxartes of the ancients, the Chu and the Zerafshan - never reached the ocean, but vanished in landlocked seas or died across the desert. The Himalaya cut off its mountains from any life-giving monsoon where the Pamirs rose in anaked glitter Of plateaux, so high, wrote Marco Polo, that no bird flew there and fire burnt with a pale flame in which you could rest your hand.

Yet this region stretched from the Kazakh steppes to the Hindu Kush. it was larger than Western Europe and split by atrocious geographic extremes. While the Pamirs lay under permafrost, the Karakum desert beneath us could simmer for weeks at a time in 1050F in the shade, and its flatlands harden to a surface like levelled stone.

"There's nothing to see down there" said the Uzbek seated beside me. 'It's the Turcomans' country' -- and his voice darkened in despisal. "They're shepherds." Then, alerted by my clumsy Russian, he asked: 'Are you from the Baltic?'

'No, England.'

'England.' He contemplated the word as if waiting for something -- anything -- to flutter into his mind. 'That is next door to America

I stared down. The plane's fuselage was gliding above a wasteland where faint tracks wandered. Here and there, as in some anatomical chart, canals and arteries converged over the blank tissue of the sand, or spread into dark fields. Occasionally, too, the soil whitened to saline flats, where all shrubs had withered away, or never been. But against the desert's enormity these features looked as slight as craters on the moon. For mile upon mile the only colour was a terrible,, famine-breathing platinum, less like pure sand than the pulverised clay of the empires which had petered out in its dust: Persia, Seleucia, Parthial Macedon .... it was awesome and somehow expected: that the heart of the world was not a throbbing organ but a shifting question-mark.

People had filled it with their inner demons. In ancient times it was the domain of Cimmerian hordes who lived in perpetual mist, and of the dread Scythians with their horses and gold. it became a corridor awash with nomad nations. For centuries it would remain silent and the movements of its peoples unknown, then it would unleash its wild cavalry west and east -- Scythians, Huns, Turks, Mongols -- to unwrap the softened empires round them. It was the hinterland of God's vengeance.

Its strangled rivers also nurtured empires of its own, muffledto Western ears by the vastness surrounding them. They leftthemselves behind in cities and tombs broken over theencroaching wilderness or in the river valleys. Only after thefifteenth century, when the Mongol empire fractured -and theSilk Road died, did this fearful heartland sink out of history,splintered into obscure khanates and tribal pastures. Fourcenturies later the Russian empire easily devoured it,and its noise was heard only dimly, through Moscow, as if it were a ventriloquist's dummy.

'You will go to Samarkand and Tashkent,' the man beside me said. it sounded more a command than a question. 'But you won't go to Tajikistan, there is fighting there. They are fighting everywhere now. Nobody knows what the future is.

But my journey unravelled in my mind through six thousand miles of mountain and desert. The Soviet system of tourism had broken up, and I had secured my visa by pre-booking rooms in a chain of grim hotels, which I would often ignore. The old order -- all Soviet Central Asia - was cracking apart, and its five republics, artificially created by Stalin, had declared their sovereignty a few months earlier. Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Kirghizstan -- suddenly the Soviet tide had ebbed from these shadowy Moslem nations and had left them naked in their, independence. What would they become? Would they hurl themselves into the Islamic furnace, I wondered, or reconvene in a Communist mass? I could conceive their future only in the light of powers which I already knew: Islam, Moscow, Turkey, the West.

To the south, for more than an hour now, the snow-peaks of the Kopet Dagh, the 'Dry Mountains', had guided us eastward. Adrift in a sea of haze, they drew the ancestral battle-line between the Turkic and Persian worlds. For more than two hundred miles they followed us like the first waves of an ocean poised to come crashing out of the Iranian plateaux barely thirty miles to the south.

Then we started to descend over a wide oasis. Beneath us the snake of the Karakum Canal was taking silt and water to the Caspian Sea. The collective farms looked as neat as Roman camps, bisected by pale streets where nothing moved. A voice over the Tannoy announced that in ten minutes we would be landing in Ashkhabad.

Ashkhabad: the capital of Turkmenistan evoked no feelings at all. Turkmenistan was one of the poorest and wildest of the old republics of the USSR, a desert region huger than Germany, peopled by less than four million souls.

The Lost Heart of Asia. Copyright © by Colin Thubron. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 7 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 7 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 14, 2007

    Great!

    I agree that this is a terrific book. It is very well-written, and I would definitely recommend it to others.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 20, 2000

    Amazing

    This book is compleltey amazing.Describes perefectly the juxapostion of a country,trapped between the decay of russian communism and the ancient culture mosiac of the turkish empire.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 16, 2015

    Bumbleshade

    Once again awesome. Keep going

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 15, 2015

    Monkey King

    I left a comment on the Prologue.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 15, 2015

    Star is to lazy to do siggy.

    Good!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 15, 2015

    FireIce's Journey Chapter 1

    It was early in the morning. FireKit was sleeping next to her mother. Her siblings, SpottedKit and BlazeKit, were charging around the nursery with two other kits as GoldenFlower talked with another queen. "CloverKit, WhiteKit. Be quiet." The queen hissed. "FireKit is sleeping. "Oh, PetalShade, she is waking now. No need for that." GoldenFlower said. "Ok then." The queen, PetalShade, replied. "But you kits try not to wake the whole camp!" BlazeKit padded over to GoldenFlower. "Mommy, when will FireKit open her eyes? I wanna go out and explore the camp, but you said we couldn't till FireKit opened her eyes." His golden eyes flashed with impatience. "Yeah mommy. Will she open her eyes soon?" SpottedKit had padded over and joined the conversation. She fixed her blue eyes onto her waking sister. FireKit raised her head and looked around. "Why can't l see?" GoldenFlower purred in amusement. "Open your eyes, darling." "Oh." FireKit opened her eyes and then blinked several times. She looked around excitedly. "Wow! Everything is so... bright!" The four other kits were looking at her face. "Why re you guys looking at me?" "Why are her eyes two different colors?" BlazeKit asked. He continued to stare at her eyes. One was as blue as the sky and the other as golden as the sun. "Oh. That is nothing big." GoldenFlower rrplied. "Our medicinecat, GrayWing, has a blue eye and green eye." "Ok. Can we go outside now?" "Yes. Yes." GoldenFlower barely had time to finish replying before all four kits dashed out of the nursery. FireKit stood shakily before running after them. The camp was large and filled with cats. "Wow." WhiteKit looked around in awe. "It's so big." SpottedKit agreed. FireKit gazed around in wonder. The camp was so big compared to the nursery. The kits ran around, exploring every single nook and corner, getting in warriors' ways and generally being kits. At sun high, the were exhausted. CloverKit yawned. "I'm so sleepy. Let's head back to the nursery." The kits trudged back to the nursery. Before entering, FireKit paused and looked around the camp one last time. It was big and calm. Just as she turned to enter the nursery, there were several screeches. FireKit wondered what the cause was until she heard one cat yell, "FOX!" FireKit craned her neck to see what all the warriors were clamoring about. She saw several warriors attack something big and red. She ran over to a rock and stood on top of it so she could get a better veiw. The fox was red with a bushy tail. It had a long muzzle and its jaws were snapping. She saw a golden warrior hurl himself at the fox. He clawed viciously at its side while another warrior bit at one of the fox's legs. The fox growled and grabbed the golden tom's tail. The fox threw the tom away before biting down on the other warrior's spine. The warrior fell limp. Another warrior, female, cried out in anguish, "DeerLeap!" She threw herself at the fox and latched her jaws on its throat. It tried to shake her away but she clung to it, fueled by anger. FireKit watched all of this with a feel of hatred nd awe. She wanted to be like the warriors fighting the fox. Fierce and dangerous. Meanwhile, the fox had finally shaken the she cat away before limping away whimpering. The female warrior quickly hurried over to the fallen body. "DeerLeap." She said sadly before laying down next to it. She began to groom the body slowly. FireKit hurried back over to the nursery, not sure of what had happened. <p> Out of charachters!

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  • Posted March 27, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Good insight, but a little depressing

    Thubron is a talented writer, and it's clear he spent a lot of time in Central Asia. The tone is a little melancholy and depressing. Not sure if this is a reflection of the author or Central Asia. If you are interested in learning more about Uzbekistan through an exciting thriller, check out The Opportunists by Yohann de Silva, which has received some great reviews.

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