Synopses & Reviews
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 Antiochin 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.
"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)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"An illuminating account of a breathtaking journey." George Cohen, Booklist
"[Thubron] understands the region well, and his writings are an important contribution to a West that hardly even knows the basic geography, let alone these cultures and sources of conflict." Library Journal
"Thubron has done it all, with sparkling grace." San Francisco Chronicle
"Thubron...overloads the reader's neurons and synapses with page after page of historical references...yet he has a cleric's knack for engaging the locals and extracting from them their true confessions primary source information that is the hallmark of all great travel writing." Christian Science Monitor
"Shadow of the Silk Road is moving in a way that's rare in travel literature, sidestepping nostalgia even as it notes its pull." New York Times
"Thubron is a patient traveler, invariably finding someone with whom to converse, learning life stories and local legends. His accounts are brief but vivid." Boston Globe
"It's impossible to cover the terrain that Thubron has without at some point confronting the legacy of the Silk Road, the network of ancient trade routes that linked the Greco-Roman world with Central Asia and China....I can think of few other writers who would be in a position to write about the subject so well..." Christian Caryl, The New York Review of Books
(read the entire New York Review of Books review
To be traveling the Silk Road is to be traveling the history of the world: tracing the passage not just of trade and armies, but also of ideas, religions, and inventions. Thubrons chosen route passes through China, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan, Iran, and Turkey.
About the Author
Colin Thubron was born in London in 1939. He left publishing to travel mainly in Asia and North Africa, where he made documentary films which were shown on BBC and world television. Afterwards, he returned to the Middle East, and wrote five books on the Area. In 1984, the Book Marketing Council nominated him one of the twenty best contemporary writers on travel.