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The Lives of Others

As I start on a promotional tour for my travel book To a Mountain in Tibet, I find I am traveling with the ghosts of others: the writers who have affected me — and those whose books I have just read, with others waiting in my luggage.

Among these last I can't help mentioning Gregor von Rezzori, who died in 1998 (published by the New York Review of Books). His provocatively-titled Memoirs of an Anti-Semite is in fact a grand and beautiful Central European novel of a kind barely possible now, and his more recently published The Snows of Yesteryear (I have only just started it) is building into a masterpiece of oblique autobiography.

Then there is The Hare With Amber Eyes, a strikingly original memoir by Edmund de Waal, based on the fate of his family's unique Japanese collection: a book that has taken Britain by storm. De Waal seems quite unfazed by his book's success. He is more interested in making porcelain, of which he is a master.

And finally, Authenticating Tibet: Answers to China's 100 Questions, by Anne-Marie Blondeau and Katia Buffetrille. Sounds a bit daunting, but in fact this is a handbook to the complexities of the whole China-Tibet question. Very fair and authoritative. It's been a godsend to me while preparing to answer queries from audiences at my talks... except that the difficult questions, of course, are never the ones you anticipatethe difficult questions, of course, are never the ones you anticipate.

These talks will mostly be in independent bookshops. As in my native Britain, it is these enterprising places that take the initiative in inviting authors in. Have bookshops ever not felt in some way besieged? Fifty years ago, it was rumored, the bookshop (and literacy itself) would be killed off by television. Now the threat comes from the demon ebook....

Half a century ago, while starting work briefly as a sales representative for a British publisher, I asked a colleague how I would be able to identify the owner when I entered his bookshop. "That's easy", came the reply. "He'll be the one with the long face."

Long face or no, he has my vote.

÷ ÷ ÷

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.

Books mentioned in this post

  1. The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Hidden... Used Trade Paper $7.95
  2. The Snows of Yesteryear: Portraits... Used Trade Paper $10.50
  3. Memoirs of an Anti-Semite New Trade Paper $15.95
  4. To a Mountain in Tibet Used Hardcover $9.95
  5. Authenticating Tibet: Answers to... Used Trade Paper $16.95

Colin Thubron is the author of To a Mountain in Tibet

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