If you've ever felt that travel writing too often succumbs to travelogue, where one exotic landscape and people blend into the next, it's time to accompany Colin Thubron on his extraordinary 7,000-mile journey along the Silk Road from Xian, China, to Antioch (Antakaya), Turkey. Following a route he freely admits is a "ghost" that has "officially vanished," using his decent Mandarin to record conversations (and occasional interviews with suspicious border guards) that lesser writers would miss, he weaves elegant observation and reflection into an engrossing, at times hallucinatory account of this perilous route through the "world's heart." And he describes its role in the violent spread of commerce, culture, and warring tribal identities.
"...[Thubron] is a scholar as well as a traveler and writer, with the result that Shadow of the Silk Road is as much a history lesson as a contemporary adventure. All in all, a splendid book."
The Washington Post
With its elegiac tone, “Shadow of the Silk Road” is moving in a way that’s rare in travel literature, sidestepping nostalgia even as it notes its pull. Thubron goes to places most other sojourners can’t—because they’re not so much geographic locations as states of mind, formed from the lifelong accretion of intriguing facts, mistaken hopes, mysteries. Here, on civilization’s oldest and longest road, which isn’t quite a road, he has found his way into that kingdom and brought it into focus for us.
The New York Times Book 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)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Thubron (In Siberia, 2000, etc.) takes an arduous 7,000-mile journey following the ancient silk trade route from inland China to Turkey's Mediterranean coast. At the very least, his marathon expedition through desert, mountains and war-scarred landscapes testifies to the author's fortitude and resourcefulness. He's quarantined by Chinese authorities during the SARS epidemic, nearly killed by a drunk driver in a head-on collision and forced to endure treatment of an abscessed tooth by a team of Iranian village dentists who don't use anesthetic. Thubron attends a rock concert staged in a Tehran military hospital, dodges suspicious guards at several remote border crossings and searches out the tombs of Genghis Khan, Omar Khayyam and Ayatollah Khomeini. He augments his trenchant narrative with impressive historical background and evocative lyrical prose: "In late autumn the road traversed a near-desert plain. From time to time a faint, brown wash overhung the horizon, as if a watercolorist had started painting mountains there, then forgotten them." Even the most erudite readers, however, may find themselves daunted and disoriented by this lengthy sojourn in such consonant-laden regions as Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, complete with their obscure attendant cultural histories. Until 1498, when the Portuguese sailed around Africa and found a safer route to China's riches, the Silk Road across central Asia was traveled by successions of invaders. East-bound from Rome, Greece and Arabia came poetry, metals and conquering armies. From China, traders carried westward such wonders as silk, paper, gunpowder and the mechanical clock. Thubron carefully picks through the cultural andarcheological remains of a half-dozen societies with a discerning eye and a scholar's discipline, pausing to note the fallout from such relatively recent arrivals as China's murderous Red Guards, the Taliban and ruthless Afghan warlords. He also pauses long enough to meet and introduce a host of memorable characters, including a Chinese college dean and some Afghan truck drivers. An impressive, rewarding and occasionally exhausting trek, most suitable for the hardcore travel reader.
"A fantastically descriptive writer, Thubron digs through the history of Central Asia...Perfect for vicarious travelers."
"A beautiful and profound travel book"
—Mail on Sunday
"A masterpiece of travel writing ... a classic"
“Splendid…Sumptuously detailed, elegantly written and riveting...Thubron misses nothing.”
“Thubron has done it all, with sparkling grace . . . He is a brilliant brooder, artful in his melancholy.”
“A fantastically descriptive writer, Thubron digs through the history of Central Asia...Perfect for vicarious travelers.”
“An exhausting journey and a marvelous book.”
“An illuminating account of a breathtaking journey.”