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Shadow of the Silk Road – Colin Thubron

05 Jul

I wanted this book for ages and having read a fair few travel writers, it was nice to pick up a book where the reviews didn’t harp on about the hilarity of the words contained within, Perhaps it’s just me but travel books are about the people and places visited and not all about the author and his or her humourous misadventures.

Nevertheless when reviewers use phrases like ”erudition metamorphose into exquisite prose (The Economist) and ‘haunting, elegiac, melancholy [and] magical’ (Financial Times), you have to hope you are onto a good thing and not something really pretentious and self loving.

Colin Thubron travels along the first great trade route out of and subsequently into the heart of China. A journey of 7000 miles encompassing many well known countries such as modern Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan as well as trouble hotspots Afghanistan and Iran.

The Silk Road was for thousands of years the most important trade route in the world,  linking Asia to Europe,  and to travel it is to take in not only an evolution of culture that inspired empires but also to see of the roots of the many turmoils of today in these regions. This book then becomes equal parts travel book and history book. Showing the spreads of religions, scientific discoveries, architecture,  spices and fashions, amongst others along the Silk Road that changed and inspired cultures, a bit like a sandy internet if you will.

Starting in China, an interesting contrast soon begins to appear. Thubron revisits people whom he met in a previous book (entitled Behind the Wall) and shows how the new wealth and materialism of China is affecting them, (for better or worse) and their way of life. This is a theme repeated throughout the book evoking an air of melancholy, a yearning for the past from people in transition, yet tinged with hope from the younger generations.

I don’t say this often, if ever, with a travel book, but the way this book is written impresses from the first page and the quality exudes throughout the rest of the book. Thubron is a serious travel writer with a rich and diverse vocabulary. Each person is portrayed with care and attention and in short he makes you wish you knew the people he meets and afterwards wonder what they are upto now. If you only pick up one travel book this year then go for this.

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4 Comments

Posted by on 05/07/2011 in Travel

 

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4 responses to “Shadow of the Silk Road – Colin Thubron

  1. Sophie B

    05/07/2011 at 16:23

    I listened to a book by that author once – In Siberia, seem to recall it was ok but a bit long + long-winded. Sounds like bits of this book might be interesting + the descriptions might be good, altho its not really a part of the world im interested in.

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  2. sophie b

    05/07/2011 at 16:37

    The bit on how many things like religions, architecture, fashions, spices + culture spread via the silk road sounds interesting. Ive heard that buddhism spread via the silk road. I am a bit interested in the art of Iran, and ive listened to a book on zoroastrianism which originated in iran which was really interesting. I guess it covers areas Of the world we might simply associate with war and violence when obviously theres a lot more to them than that. guess most people dont know that much about the countries featured. I am going to get a new phone. need to have predictive text online! glad u enjoyed it. I agree travel books should primarily be about the places and people. A lot do seem to be humour based, which can be enjoyable IF done well, bt its nice to learn some things.

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  3. StetotheJ

    05/07/2011 at 17:08

    I do own In Siberia – which possibly won’t come as a suprise to you – and plan to read that went it gets a bit colder (just to get into the spirit of the thing, and possibly have a vodka too, no pun intended). I shall review that at a later date.

    You are right, places like Afghanistan and Iran are primarily associated with war these days but have such a rich history and culture, that it is a shame that it’s not more prevalant, That of course is a point I will be putting forward in (yet another) travel book review.

    I might give the travel genre a rest for a bit though as I seem to have got far to carried away with it. Thanks for the feedback. Much appreciated.

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  4. sophie b

    05/07/2011 at 22:09

    Oh, have you Read more travel books than me?
    this thing was supposed to notify me by email if there were any further comments but it didnt. it also didnt let me like it.

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