Read Shadow of the Silk Road by Colin Thubron Online


On buses, donkey carts, trains, jeeps and camels, Colin Thubron traces the drifts of the first great trade route out of the heart of China into the mountains of Central Asia, across northern Afghanistan and the plains of Iran into Kurdish Turkey.Covering over 7000 miles in eight months Thurbron recounts extraordinary adventures - a near-miss with a drunk-driver, incarceratOn buses, donkey carts, trains, jeeps and camels, Colin Thubron traces the drifts of the first great trade route out of the heart of China into the mountains of Central Asia, across northern Afghanistan and the plains of Iran into Kurdish Turkey.Covering over 7000 miles in eight months Thurbron recounts extraordinary adventures - a near-miss with a drunk-driver, incarceration in a Chinese cell during the SARS epidemic, undergoing root canal treatment without anaesthetic in Iran - in inimitable prose.Shadow of the Silk Road is about Asia today; a magnificent account of an ancient world in modern ferment....

Title : Shadow of the Silk Road
Author :
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ISBN : 9780099437222
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 384 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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Shadow of the Silk Road Reviews

  • Candi
    2019-04-27 19:17

    4.5 stars"… to follow the Silk Road is to follow a ghost. It flows through the heart of Asia, but it has officially vanished, leaving behind it the pattern of its restlessness: counterfeit borders, unmapped peoples. The road forks and wanders wherever you are. It is not a single way, but many: a web of choices. Mine stretches more than seven thousand miles, and is occasionally dangerous."Shadow of the Silk Road is a very absorbing and enlightening travel narrative that transported me to the land through which the ancient road traversed and introduced me to a diverse group of people along the way. British travel writer and novelist Colin Thubron made this bold and dangerous journey in the early 2000s, following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. His venture begins at the tomb of China’s Yellow Emperor, the ‘Founder of Human Civilization’, outside of Xian and takes us through the heart of Central Asia to Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Iran and Kurdish Turkey – a trek that covers seven thousand miles and a total of eight months.Travel narratives are a new genre of reading for me, so I can’t compare this one to others. However, I can say that this was positively delightful – full of history, conversations with the citizens of these countries, beautiful descriptions of the landscape and architecture, and often lyrical prose. Never once did I feel that I was reading textbook material. Thubron can speak some of the languages encountered here; when he can’t, he utilizes the skills of translators. In either situation, the people seem to be eager to open up to him, this Westerner, and express their views, sorrows and hopes for the future of their countries. Thubron touches on the varied religions of the inhabitants and visits places of worship. He sits in restaurants and chats about the politics, the fights for freedom; the aggravation felt by many is quite evident. In most cases, the people are tired of fighting and long for peace. Sometimes newly found independence is a struggle itself with many difficulties yet to be overcome. Besides the contemporary issues, Thubron illustrates the various empires and dynasties that existed in the past. The region is rich with stories of kings, emperors, conquerors, inventors, artists and the like. I found the information surrounding the silkworm and the silk trade itself to be quite interesting. If there’s one complaint I have about this wonderful book, it’s just that there was so much information. I could never completely retain even half of what I read, simply due to the number of miles and years of history covered. And yet, I feel enriched by having read this. I would read, and in fact plan to read, more travelogues written by Thubron. I highly recommend this book to anyone that would like to learn more about this region and those that take pleasure in armchair travel, as I do. "In the shaky candle-flame I remember reaching countries hundreds of miles before their official frontiers, or long after. Often I imagine the Silk Road itself has created and left behind these blurs and fusions, like the bed of a spent river, and I picture different, ghostly maps laid over the political ones: maps of fractured races and identities."

  • Jim
    2019-05-15 01:14

    It would be a waste of time to recreate the reviews already posted here, all glowing and full of accolades, many deserved, though I was less enchanted with the book overall than some readers. I thought it was a solid and interesting piece, recounting some of his earlier travels, but I was not blown away. I enjoyed some of the historical information, especially tidbits such as that remnants of a Roman legion settled in China, but his focus seemed to consistently zero in on the crumbling world he seemed attracted to. Did anyone think it was repetitive, and frankly boring, in stretches (possibly reflecting the actual trip)? He has a love for certain words (beetling, for instance), and one almost got the feeling that he took notes home and then spent hours applying heavily painted hand-crafted tiles to the structure of his story, like one of the innumerable mosques and tombs he passed by. That is not to say that I didn't enjoy the book, but I did feel a bit worn out. I thought he did a good job describing attitudes of the people he met, especially anti-Chinese sentiments and the narrow mindedness of many people he came across (probably the same could be said if one were to travel by foot through some parts of America). Although he chose not to take a camera, a few pictures would have been nice. In only a few places did I feel he felt any real connection or empathy with the people. Where is the joy of travel, man! Just kidding, but he did seem a bit crusty to me. And I don't just mean the layers of desert that undoubtedly weighed him down in the end.

  • Dale
    2019-05-22 20:16

    Shadow of the Silk Road is a phenomenal book. The author, British travel writer Colin Thubron, traveled from Xian, an ancient capital of China, to Antioch in Turkey along the silk road, blending broad historical knowledge with acute observations of contemporary life.Thubron speaks Mandarin and Russian, and was able therefore to speak directly with many of the people on his journey, at least until he arrived in Afghanistan. A theme throughout the book is the mix of peoples, with tribes and nations spanning the current political borders. Most of western China has been populated by Tibetans, Uighars, and other central Asian people for a very long time, and is only now being colonized by Chinese. The Chinese are hated by the native people because of the vast migrations that are underway. Native cultures are being subsumed by a Chinese industrial juggernaut. Old towns are being covered over by concrete and by soulless industrialization.The silk road was never a single road, but a kind of nervous system with two heads: one in China, one on the Mediterranean. It has existed in some form for nearly 3000 years. Silk began to appear in the Mediterranean by at least 500 B.C.E., having been cultivated in China since 2000 B.C.E. And Greek and Roman images began appearing in China by about 300 B.C.E. No one person actually traveled the length of the silk road - in Thubron's words, no Chinese traders appeared on the Palatine to surprise native Romans. Instead, goods were transported by different traders via intermediaries along the route, enriching those intermediary cities in central Asia and Persia.Today, as ever, the route is dangerous and often isolated. Thubron traveled by train, bus, truck, private car, on foot, horseback, camelback, and only once by plane, across the northern section of Afghanistan, where no driver would go, with or without him. He was quarantined for a time because of the SARS virus, and had a few close calls when crossing borders.By the end of his long journey he was clearly ready to be done. He rushes through the last part of the trip, in southern Turkey, almost as an afterthought. After the long stretches of genuinely wild and dangerous travel, he seems not to have been aware of just how interesting a trip through Turkey would be for most of us.This book gave me a much clearer view of the geography and people of Asia than I had before. I would never want to retrace Thubron's journey, so reading about it is as close as I will get to experiencing central Asia and the silk road.

  • Lyn
    2019-04-22 02:36

    Style detracted from content.

  • Kevin
    2019-04-27 21:13

    One of my favorite genres is the travel narrative--Paul Theroux, Tony Horwitz, Bill Bryson. And one of my favorite travel narrative locations is China--it’s vast, geographically, socially.. any way you look at it. I was looking forward to this book because it combined a couple of my favorite genres. But I’m under whelmed. It seems Thubron was on journey to work out some personal demons or issues. This would be fine, but combining it with a travel narrative is confusing--is it a travel book? A memoir (he has been to many of these places before)? The narrative itself takes on a sameness. One aspect of good travel writing I enjoy is the history of locations I didn’t know anything about. Thubron has local history to spare. Unfortunately, it all tends to run together. He doesn’t do a good job of differentiating a hero’s tomb in western China from one in central Afghanistan. I also seriously question some of his interviews and experiences. I find it hard to believe that ordinary people in remote locations would open up to him as he writes. And then there is his writing. A car “dreamed” to a stop after an accident? Footprints in a dusty hotel room are homesick? Sometimes it felt like I was reading a MadLib.

  • Chrissie
    2019-05-14 22:31

    I totally loved this book, specially the travels through China! Perhaps I shouldn't say that - the travel through Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Afghanistan were also fascinating. The peoples, the faiths, the customs - both over centuries passed and now today - all were discussed. Little things like the facial characteristics and body forms and hats worn were so well described. Each cultural group became an identity. I have to visit China ..... I don't know if I would be brave enough for the other countries! Wow do I admire Colin Thubron, and I must read more of his books. He makes history come alive. As a child in school, history was just dates and names - all of which w

  • Allisonperkel
    2019-04-23 02:18

    there are parts of this book that are amazing (Xian comes to mind and several of the strangers he meets on his journey) but sadly the author's writing style is very much one that I don't like - overly descriptive almost as if he was being paid by the word. If you like old British travelogues - where the flowery prose is more important than the tale - this may be the book for you. On the other hand, if you are looking for something more - its still here - but its buried.

  • Mindy McAdams
    2019-04-22 01:37

    I do not read a lot of travel narratives, but now and then I select one because each page I open while thumbing through (or previewing on Amazon) holds something interesting and makes me want to keep on reading. This book passed my small test, and I was not disappointed.Many others have praised Thubron's way with words. I would join them but for a small caveat: sometimes he overdoes it. Sometimes the poetry overexerts itself and threatens to smother the prose. But not too often!This was a long journey -- more than 5,000 miles overland, alone, and with little reliable transportation. Thubron was aided by his fluency in both Mandarin and Russian. He introduces us to several unique people along the way, and I'd say those are some of the most enjoyable parts of his story -- but I also enjoyed very much his skillful weaving of historic background alongside his bumping on buses, his climbing up cliff faces to gain access to ancient caves, his attempts to sleep in inhospitable rooms.Thubron reveals to us some aspects of Chinese hegemony that are rarely uncovered in Western media. Of particular interest to me were his experiences among the Uighurs, a traditionally Muslim ethic group whose lands lie on vast oil reserves within China's borders. I was also fascinated by his days spent in Iran and Afghanistan, where he shows a few slices of daily life wholly apart from war and military maneuvers.There's not much of a personal nature in this account -- I knew little more about Thubron when I finished than when I had started. This didn't bother me while I was reading, and I would guess it was Thubron's intention to assert himself as little as possible. Instead he lets the rugged scenery, the history, and the residents of these unfamiliar lands speak mostly for themselves.I also recommend this beautifully illustrated and very readable history: The Silk Road: Two Thousand Years in the Heart of Asia.

  • Tony Taylor
    2019-05-02 02:22

    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.

  • Marguerite
    2019-05-05 03:21

    Colin Thubron's account of an epic journey along the Silk Road is an interesting mix of history and travelogue. He has a good eye and ear for detail and a knack for finding interesting people. His determination to find important historical sites that have been overlooked/sanitized is impressive. The pace, maybe like that of travelers on the Silk Road of old, is slow. I wish there were photos, but I don't think he'd have gotten access to some sites if he'd traveled with a camera.His writing is occasionally lyrical:"Sometimes a journey arises out of hope and instinct, the heady conviction, as your finger travels along the map:Yes, here and here ... and here. These are the nerve-ends of the world.""The heavy stirrup was a Chinese brain-child as early as the fourth century AD, it seems, and as it traveled westward, stabilizing its rider in battle, it made possible the heavily armored and expensively mounted knight.""Nothing ahead of me, I sense, will be homogeneous, constant. To follow a road is to follow diversity: a flow of interlocked voices, arguing, in a cloud of dust.""My feet crunch over the snow, seeming light and lonely, and from somewhere in the darkness ahead -- like an old god clearing his throat -- sounds the braying of a horn. Then a familiar elation wells up: the childlike anticipation of entering the unknown, some perfect otherness.""These men -- two of them spoke tentative English -- were touched by a delicacy which I was starting to recognize, of people educated for something else, derailed by hard times."

  • Yoshiyuki
    2019-05-17 00:23

    Colin Thubron is not only "the pre-eminent travel writer of his generation" as The SUNDAY TELEGRAPH says about him...he is much, much more than that and his latest book is his legacy for this genre.Delving into the milleniums of history while going along what used to be the Silk Road, from Xian to Antioch, he diggs out stories on people, temples,tombs,cities-that-have-been, abandoned citadels, forgotten villages, disappeared civilizations.... and tells them with such a melancholic, melodic thrill that one finds oneself wrapped up and transported in those far-away places to be part of the very happenings. I liked every page in the book, every story and felt afraid at his undertakings, so bold in their reality. He is the writer that lives what he writes, he is the researcher who goes out to step on the skeletons of history. And I never felt my own mortality so deep as while reading this book!What are we if not grains of sand in the passage of time?!There are many who can write after doing an erudite search through old books in famous libraries, but Thubron's strength is that he goes in search of history and its nowaday's flailing ghosts with his inner eye, both compassionate and humourous.

  • Mosco
    2019-04-27 23:20

    testo denso, a tratti un po' pesante, che mette a nudo l'abissale ignoranza della sottoscritta nei riguardi della storia di oriente e medio oriente. E se non si conoscono le radici di genti e culture e confini che si sono succeduti nei millenni e che hanno lasciato segni indelebili,cosa voglio capire e giudicare degli sviluppi attuali?

  • Caroline
    2019-05-04 19:38

    Thubron captures a panoply of voices from along the silk road, reflecting all the ethnicities that have intermixed through the last 3,000 years as traders and conquerors moved back and forth. He is an amazingly brave man to have moved through the deserts and battlegrounds of the Uigars, Iraquis and Iranians with nothing but a rucksack, some maps and whatever drivers and translators he could pick up along the way. But this made him approachable, and he had Russian and at least rudimentary other languages that helped bridge the way to sharing meals and stories with the people he met.At times the effort to capture the emptiness of the land was a little too traditional British poetic travel-talk, but mostly the writing is good. I think the best parts are the simple transcriptions of monologues by the indivdiuals he meets who are trying to survive the politics of the countries he passes through. Many are faithful Muslims who believe in the official version of the West that they are given. Others are restless for political change or relief from ethnic persecution.This is also an interesting book to read in counterpoint to Robert Byron’sjourney through some of the same area in the 1930s: The Road to Oxiana. Like Byron he organizes much of his journey so as to see architectural monuments in various states of ruin or veneration, but Byron did not mingle on such an individual level with everyday people, as I recall.

  • Tory Wagner
    2019-04-22 02:28

    Shadow of the Silk Road by Colin Thubron is so much more than simply a travel book. Thubron steeps himself in the history of each place he visits and shares this perspective with his reader. As you read, you may wonder what century you are in and visions of people marching through the ages will occupy your thoughts. Sometimes the reading is heavy going, but you will be satisfied if you stick with it.

  • Juha
    2019-05-22 02:43

    This book records the eight-month journey that the author took through what is probably the most fascinating part of the world, traveling west from China through Central Asia, Afghanistan, Iran, ending in Turkey. He writes amazingly beautiful prose and his observations are deep and heartfelt, often containing intricate details about the landscapes, cultures, people he encounters. He talks to a wide variety of people and, importantly, gets them to talk to him. A famous British travel writer, he has visited these places three decades earlier, but his historical commentary stretches far before that to the ancient times. He tells stories of times when peoples and cultures were on the move, emperors and conquerors shifted, goods and ideas moved along the Silk Road. Colin Thubron knows his history.The journey starts in Xian in central China from where Thubron travels west, the early part of his trip somewhat hampered by the SARS epidemic in the country. This first part of the book is perhaps the most tedious. There are lots of cultural sites that Thubron visits and which lead to ponderings about history and mixing of people along the Silk Road. He harbors an animosity towards the Communist China and the Cultural Revolution (which obviously was sheer madness and one of the most destructive passages of modern history), as well as the Han Chinese domination of the ethnic minorities in the western parts of the country. The anger about the loss of culture simmers just beneath the surface.Most of the trip, starting in western China, travels through Islamic lands, which serves to demonstrate the enormous variety in the practice of that religion. The voyage continues through Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, which exist as countries only after Stalin’s Soviet Union annexed and created them as such. Even their history and myths were created. The true identity lies with ethnicity, clan and religion. The Kyrgyz, Tajik, Uzbek and Turkmen—even the Chinese in the east—mix in a patchwork which doesn’t respect national boundaries. Thubron observes and discusses with people the post-Soviet world (many long for the stability of the Soviet Union), the revival of Islam (which has been limited to small minorities and hardly has a bright future in Central Asia), and the future, revealing much uncertainty and confusion.He crosses into Afghanistan and arrives in Mazar-i-Sharif witnessing the aftermath of the war in which numerous, often ethnic-based militias have been vying for control of territory, resources and people’s lives since long before the emergence of the Taliban and US-led invasion. But the Taliban were the craziest—uneducated, ignorant, fanatical , brutal. Lawlessness is widespread and local warlords in control, but people are also tired of fighting and just hoping to get along with their lives. In the land ravaged by war and drought, opium cultivation is the only viable option for many villagers.From Afghanistan the trip takes him to Iran and finally to the final destination in Turkey. Traveling through Kurdistan Colin Thubron again explores one of the main themes of the book (and in the process gets a rough but effective root canal done to himself), that political borders seldom coincide with those boundaries that really matter to people, namely those based on ethnicity, language, religion.This should be one of my favorite books; and on some levels it is. Thubron’s erudite prose is very informative and humane, but also rather slow and at times heavy. The reader gets to visit many monuments and tombs of historical figures and receives lots of arcane details about the lives and the variations in the religious beliefs of people. Consequently, it took me a long time to get through the beautiful book. This is likely to be more of a judgment of the reader than the author. In today’s world, there is too little patience for reflection.

  • Janet Eshenroder
    2019-05-18 02:13

    The author wove stories of the Silk Road's history with memories from his own trips 10 or more years earlier and with minute details of what he found at sites just prior to 2008(the book's publish date). If I pulled out single sentences I could marvel at their descriptive qualities, yet(for me) the prose often got in the way of the story. I grew tired of so many nouns having adjectives, of landscape and buildings so often being anthropomorphized. I do give kudos for a very thorough picture of settlements along the Silk Road, and for the journey this author took through treacherous terrain. One instantly thinks of war correspondents who, for the sake of a good story, throw themselves into the middle of hot spots, ignoring/denying personal risk.Why two stars? I was hoping to experience the history, romance, and adventure of traveling the Silk Road. I was expecting an emotional immersion in lands I would never experience. Instead I felt like I was passively sitting back for a long evening's "entertainment," looking at someone's travel photos projected on a screen. Interesting information at points but easy for one's attention to begin drifting. I wish I could rate the book higher. Perhaps I am not giving full credit to a book that was meant to be taken in smaller doses. This was an e-book library loan received while we were on a hectic vacation so I was faced with only a few weeks to complete the book before it vanished from my Kindle. Finishing the book became a chore, not a delight, mainly because the author's journey became repetitive. Take a step forward. Stop. Turn 360 degrees, carefully describing every sight, sound, and smell you can perceive. Talk to a local who will suddenly open up and tell his version of current life. Assume this reflects the cultural norm. Move on to the next step. Stop. Turn 360 degrees and repeat the procedure.I see this book's greatest impact on future generations who want or need a detailed account of this moment in time. The book would be valuable to researchers of regions along the Silk Road, allowing them to compare changes as governments shift and people struggle to survive, or to compare changes as old antiquities are left to crumble into dust.

  • Sicofonia
    2019-05-12 01:28

    Shadow of the Silk Road is a book about a journey that took Colin Thubron through the countries in Central Asia where the famous trading route ran across. Starting in Chinese Xian and finishing in Antakya (Turkey).As any other book of this genre, the narrative heavily focuses on descriptions about the places Thubron visited and their history. By history I mean brief remarks, for the most part, that Thubron added to give some historical background to the narrative.20 years before this journey, Thubron had done the exact same trip.Time and again Thubron recalls how the place was in that first trip, so when comparing his first visit against the latest one, he invariably comes to the conclusion that the place now has a more somber/neglected look. A shadow of its former self.And that's the key point of Shadow of the Silk Road. As time goes by, the cities, monuments and societies that inhabit what once was the richest cultural melting pot in human history... are now victims of a disturbing decay.On a personal note, I would say that Thubron added a touch of his own that might not be appealing to some readers. His highly critical view to the current state of affairs in Central Asian countries might come across as arrogant. I suppose that's the idea he had in mind when he wrote the book. That is, to focus on all the negative elements in the journey. In that sense, it's somewhat depressing. He also made use of a highly lyrical jargon which, in my humble opinion, is out of place in a non-fiction work.I would still recommend this book to anyone with a serious interest in Central Asia or the Silk Road in general. Despite its shortcomings, I enjoyed reading it.Addendum: Incidentally, I happened to read the Spanish edition of the book. Translation seems to be OK, but the book is riddled with some typos and grammar errors. Given that fact that I paid more than 20 quid for a paperback, I think they could have done a far better job!

  • Don
    2019-05-19 02:43

    The Silk Road, the historic trade route between the Chinese Empire and the Mediterranean ports, was actually a constellation of routes. Colin Thubron chose to follow one specific route -- Xian to Kashgar in China; from Kashgar across the mountains through Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan; on foot across the bridge spanning the Oxus river into Afghanistan; westward through Afghanistan to Mashad in Iran; continuing through Tehran into Turkey; and ending up on the Mediterranean coast at Antakya (ancient Antioch).He travels alone, by whatever conveyance he can find. He is a highly observant traveler, fearless in talking to the people he meets and in accepting their hospitality. Thubron possesses some fluency in Mandarin, quite helpful while traveling his many miles through China. The resulting book is an insightful picture of today's China, Central Asia, and Middle East -- as well as a fascinating account of the history that has given rise to today's nations and tribes.I first read Thubron in his book To a Mountain in Tibet -- an account of his pilgrimage circumambulating the holy mountain of Kailas. In that pilgrimage, he sought some sense of meaning in and transcendence from life, following the death of his last family member. To me, however, he seemed to find little hope or answer to his fears. His epic journey on the Silk Road is less spiritual in its intent, but his stories of lost empires and forgotten tombs and casual slaughter echoes the sense of the brevity and meaninglessness of life I gleaned from his Kailas book -- in this instance, the tragedy of great deeds by men great and obscure, rendered nugatory by time. Shadow of the Silk Road describes an heroic odyssey, with great sensitivity and powers of observation by its author, but at the cost of inducing a sense of depression and despair in his readers.But it's nonetheless a fascinating story. I suggest the "cost" is well worth its rewards.

  • Naomi
    2019-05-19 03:33

    Thubron's story, which essentially is his travels interspersed with digressions of rumour, history, memory and observations, was well written and mostly interesting. I enjoyed his route (starting in Xi'an) and his explanation for his path. All in all I was mildly interested but can see his forte lies in true historical analysis and I found my mind wandering during his seemingly self-indulgent rambles down various routes.I was galvanised by his description of the importance of the Silk Road in history - he starts by doing an inventory of the objects found in the tomb of Shi Huangdi (better know as the tomb of the terracotta army). He points out the origins of the technology of weaponry and shows how they traveled along the Silk Road back and forth each time developing and influencing the various nations along the way. His depiction of the goods being traded, the languages spoken, the intermarriages that took place all lend flavour to amazing concept of a trade route that was complex and absolutely vital to the development of culture before the epoch of sea travel. An interesting companion book to this idea of the silk road is Dava Sobel's book - longitude which describes how important sea travel became for trading and yet how long it took for the technology to catch up with the navigational knowledge thus extending the importance of the Silk Road quite considerably.

  • Lida
    2019-05-17 23:23

    I read doggedly to make it to 118 pages, then skimmed the rest of the book, making sure to read the detailed description of his 4-hour-long root canal sans anesthesia. I read the part of the book detailing Mr. Thubron's travels in China and Tibet. I couldn't tell you what he described; I found that when I would be done reading a passage, I would be unable to picture what he was talking about. One of my friends put it best when she said, "He is not very painterly." I found the lofty vocabulary and phrasing intractable. After looking up the names of ancient civilizations and at least one new vocabulary word on every page and searching in vain for any real spark of the author's personality, I gave up and read and the last 10 pages on Antioch, the terminus of this route. Things I appreciated about this book: He was traveling in Asia during the time of the SARS virus. I had almost forgotten about that and it was interesting to read how this influenced his travel (he was briefly quarantined). Also, when he had his abscess and was feverish from infection, his experience made me realize the perils and vulnerabilities of the lone traveler. It reinforced my lack of desire to travel in NW China.

  • Maggie
    2019-05-17 22:23

    in the shadow of (the scam from) "a million little pieces" i wondered about a third of the way into this book if it could be trusted: could this one man truly have traveled 7000 miles on his own? are the stories he relates so fantastic to be believed or has he invented them? how many languages DOES he know in order to successfully get through this journey? half way through the book i decided to give mr. thubron the benefit of the doubt not least because i looked him up on the web and decided that at his age it is more likely that he is straightforward rather than a "young turk scam artist"highly recommend the book: travel journal? oh yes. history tome with major connection points? oh yes. cultural and archeological accounts? oh yes. in short every thing an inquiring mind wants to know about a vague and highly romanticized trade route. i've yet to read marco polo on his travels but i do have the book and will be getting a 'round tuit.second reading: may 2014 ... read it slower this time and appreciated it even more.

  • Parvathy
    2019-05-01 22:32

    It's a Marco Polo-esque journey through the Silk Road, from Chinese Xian to Turkish Antioch, through lands that have become a literal palimpsest, with centuries-old cultures evolving and changing with every new encounter with traders or invaders. There are the Chinese Uighers, stuck with China while their closest neighbours all have gained nationhood from a splintering Soviet Union; newly-formed Central Asian republics where older generations recall Stalin with fondness; an Afghanistan that is trying to bury memories of a murderous Taliban; an Iran where common people are trying to negotiate lives between radical religion and a gentler past version of it. Through it all, Thubron regales us with the rich history of the route - through which Rome discovered Chinese silk and paper, Indian spices and so much more. It's really the best kind of travel writing - describing a fascinating present in the context of a far richer past. It took me 10 days to finish this - but oh, was worth every minute spent on it.

  • Annie
    2019-04-23 01:41

    It took me a long time to work through this, as it often does with non-fiction. I liked the blend of history, description, and people's stories. I didn't know much about a lot of the areas Thurbon traveled. My only complaint was that, while Thurbon was upfront about a lot of the current realities, there were obvious places where he glossed over things. The amount of latitude given to him to just wander around China was a little hard to credit, for example, and at key moments, rides just amazingly show up for him. Most glaringly, an authors note at the beginning mentions that fighting in northern Afghanistan interrupted his trip for a year, but neither the fighting nor the delay are referenced directly in the text. What's the point of writing about the modern silk road and only halfheartedly acknowledging the modern realities? That said, I loved the history and the talks with people on the way.

  • Alexandra
    2019-05-20 02:42

    Parts of this are truly haunting; I think this is going to be a book I feel weeks after finishing it. Thubron's depiction of people is masterful, small, intimate details to create a sense of personality. Granted, I did feel I needed a dictionary handy at times, and that broke the spell of his writing somewhat. Other times, he tended to ramble, weaving in and out of deep history, leaving me behind in the present or the past. I couldn't always keep up with him. And despite the helpful maps and the beginning of each of the three sections, he likes to remain mysterious and cagey about where he is at any given time. I would have like him to be a bit more precise about his whereabouts.This is the first of Thubron I've read; definitely compelled to look for more of his work after this one.

  • Jane
    2019-05-09 21:15

    For Shadow of the Silk Road, Thubron traveled the entire length of the former Silk Road between China and the West, and as such, two-thirds of the book focus on locales outside of Central Asia. Nonetheless, it too was thoroughly engrossing, and I highly recommend it. However, since the space of time which Thubron spent in Central Asia in this book was much less than the time spent in this region for The Lost Heart of Asia, it isn’t as detailed or informative. If you can only read one of the two and are looking for information specifically on Central Asia, I’d go with Lost Heart. But seriously, try to read them both.

  • John
    2019-04-23 01:16

    Solid writing, though it seemed more of a series of highlights than a continuous narrative to me. I'm good with British humour, and wasn't expecting a laff-riot, but Thubron's continuous earnest tone (along with a fair amount of historical background) made the book seem longer than it was for me; I paused halfway through (7 hrs) to listen to something different, thinking "Well, at least he's finally gotten out of China!" and felt near the end "At least he's out of Iran!" The narrator seemed to help (if anything) in that regard, although his odd pronunciations were slightly annoyingI'd recommend it as it's well-written, and my issues were highly subjective.

  • Nancy Jurss
    2019-05-18 02:40

    4 stars for his descriptions of encounters of the people he met during his travel through China, Central Asia, Iran, and Turkey. 2 stars for his endless descriptions of landscapes that sounded the same as the previous one. 4 stars for his interesting insights into the history of some of the areas. 2 stars for his descriptions of one ruined mosque after another. Colin Thubron has a very distinguished pedigree as a writer, but the prose in this book was a little overly florid for this travelogue. This is his ninth travel book and this one covers territory he has explored before. It feels like he felt the need to add more than necessary to go beyond what he wrote before.

  • SK
    2019-05-14 20:24

    Thubron is a travel writer and, according to some reviewers, is well-respected. This book details his return journey along the Silk Road starting in China and going west through regions that have seen much political, cultural and military upheaval. He travels without credentials trying to attract as little attention as possible. His descriptions of the terrain, art, housing, food, people, religious and conveyance are extremely detailed--too much for me. For those who have a background in art history, Chinese or Middle Eastern history or ancient religions this book would be a jewel.

  • Patricia
    2019-05-16 20:33

    Oh, dear. I did SO want to like this book! I certainly like the idea of it, and I enjoyed it on some level (I only abandoned it after reading 300 of 350 pages!). But I wasn't enthralled, and then it became a chore, and then I found myself skimming..... I wish he had had more of his interactions with locals, as I enjoyed all of those. It was his meanderings through and descriptions of ancient religious sites that eventually wore me down.

  • Carol
    2019-04-25 03:22

    An interesting tour of the ancient caravansary' s of the Silk Road. He traveled over 7,000 miles and endured bad food , bad weather and bad people. Only one thing irritated me, he tended to challenge officials. I really wonder if that was true. An American traveling alone in hostile territory, it was a little unbelievable. His description of the countries and the people were wonderful though and held my interest.