Shadow of the Silk Road

by Colin Thubron

Hardcover, 2007


Checked out
Due Aug 19, 2021


New York : HarperCollins, 2007.


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 to the ancient port of Antioch. 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, this book is also about Asia today: a continent of upheaval. One of the trademarks of 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.--From publisher description.… (more)

Media reviews

Yet in “Shadow of the Silk Road” Thubron departs from his countrymen in important respects. This is not his first trip across these deserts and mountains, and he saw many of these places before the collapse of the Soviet Union. Because he travels without a camera, Thubron never compares
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snapshots, only memories. In this, he is more poetic than his predecessors; the passage of time is his book’s most interesting feature.
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User reviews

LibraryThing member LynnB
Colin Thubron has written this account of his 7000-mile trip along the Silk Road, from China to Turkey.

At times I loved this book. Mr. Thubron encounters many interesting people in his journey and has an ability to draw out their stories, dreams, hopes and fears. Sometimes humourous, sometimes sad,
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his stories of the people were wonderful. They reminded me a bit of John Berendt's marvelous way of finding and introducing fascinating people to the reader.

At other times -- unfortunately too many -- I found myself lost and confused. Mr. Thubron's descriptions of paintings and architecture, and his fictional conversations with an imaginary friend were beautifully written. He has a flair for description and evoking imagery that is unsurpassed. But too much of a good thing isn't a good thing. I often wondered "where is he again? What is he describing now?"

Glad I read this, but I don't think I'll be looking for more by this author.
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LibraryThing member bigjamie
Very well written and excellent character study. Extremely difficult content at times, given the holocaust as subject matter. Disturbing, compelling, unlovely.
LibraryThing member Opinionated
Very interesting - Thubron is clearly a very hardy and monastic soul seemingly perfectly suited to this lonely trip. He treats all the people he meets with genuine interest and gentle humour and copes with rugged conditions without over romanticising them, taking pain and privation without seeming
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to notice. Its a melancholy book; the former glories of the region are recalled and placed in stark contrast to the realities of today - or rather to 5 or 6 years ago. One suspects that some of the route might be more depressing today. And yet although Thubron is occasionally surprised by changes to places he's visited before (particularly in China) he is never sniffy about modernisation (as for example, Paul Theroux often is) and seems to be comfortable with change.

I hadn't read any of Mr Thubron's travel writing in book form before (i have read short pieces in Granta) but I have a couple of his novels. But so enjoyable is his company that I will be buying more at the earliest opportunity
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LibraryThing member theonearmedcrab
Colin Thubron went back to cross from China via Central Asia and Afghanistan to Iran and Eastern Turkey, to travel the ancient Silk Road. He published “Shadow of the Silk Road” in 2006, the book, but more so his journey, an extraordinary feat, given the threat from SARS in China and the
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hostilities in Afghanistan at the time. All the more striking, then, that Mr Thubron, quiet and relaxed as always, just does his own thing, finds his own way, often ignoring official directions if he thinks they are useless and ineffective. He may get arrested, so once in a while, but it doesn’t seem to bother him that much. As I have observed in other books of Mr. Thubron, he has a special way of observing, not necessarily focusing on the tourist highlights, but often on more obscure, somewhat irrelevant yet interesting aspects of the region he travels through. Helped by his linguistic skills, he travels off the beaten track, and he meets people, mostly ordinary people. All very interesting, yet, it seldom gets very exciting – which does not, in any way, diminish the respect I have for this man, who wrote his first travel book in the 1960s!
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LibraryThing member nemoman
Thubron travels the length of the Silk Road, at least one of its many traces, and uncovers traces of what has the feel of lost history. Wonderfully written, Thubron's book intermingles contemporary observations with deep and rich historical asides. The breadth of his knowledge is humbling and
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brings to mind the like erudition that Patrick Fermor brought to A Time Of Gifts and Between The Woods And The Water. Thubron's acerbic tone sometimes echoes the travel writing of Paul Theroux.
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LibraryThing member debnance
I liked this book, but I didn't love it. The idea of the book was initially fascinating to me: Travel down the old Silk Road and see what is still intact, relating a little ancient history and telling stories about the people that used the road in the past. I loved the ancient history and the
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stories about the people and places of the Silk Road. What irritated me were Thubron's conversations in his mind with an ancient traveler; these seemed silly to me.
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LibraryThing member kropferama
Another great travel retraces past journey on the Silk Road. Thubron brings shows the SR as the first instance of globalization weaving in the histories of people, language, traders, and goods. His writing style is poetic, almost surreal. Remarkable for his ability t...o travel to the most remote,
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desolate locations. Contrasting style to Paul Theroux.
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LibraryThing member Seajack
Good premise and well-written, though I found the historical digressions a bit too frequent.
LibraryThing member ArtRodrigues
It is a privilege to go on a journey with Colin Thubron. Thubron is not only extremely well-versed in local history and culture, but he has a knack for languages as well. I knew the author spoke fluent Russian from reading "In Siberia" only to discover that he speaks enough Mandarin to make himself
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understood most of the time during his travels in China. The best part about this book and other Thubron travel books is when he is actually traveling. His descriptions are precise. His casual encounters with ordinary people are interesting, particularly when he arrives in Iran toward the end of his trip. Occasionally, the book bogs down when Thubron digresses into one of the many historical anecdotes. While I cannot help but be mpressed by the author's knowledge and research, I often found these passages frustrating because they were often too long and detailed (and some too obscure to be of general interest) that they detracted from the journey itself. Thubron has clearly established himself as one of the leading contemporary writers of travel literature, but I couldn't help but think that that reputation may have cowed his editors into allowing long weary passages slip by.
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LibraryThing member RajivC
I really like this book. I should have reviewed it as soon as I read it, but better late than never. I have recently started reading travel books, as I want to get into the travel writing habit, I need to update my blog now!
However, what I like about Colin Thubron's writing, is that he gets into
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the essence, the spirit, of a place that he visits. You get a sense of the history, albeit short, and it keeps you going right through the book. While it is about himself, he rarely gets sucked into the habit of putting himself first in every aspect of the writing.
Definitely worth reading
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LibraryThing member tangledthread
This wasn't quite what I was expecting. I have a strong interest in textiles and thought that silk would be the focus of the book. Not so. The author has apparently covered this territory before and this book is the narrative of a second journey along this route. There is some interesting
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comparison with is past experience and a lot of introspection as he makes his way across this inhospibable route. The quality of his writing is meditative at many points and includes reflections on ancient history of the cultures and religions through the region.
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LibraryThing member bookwoman247
From Xian, China, to Antakya, (Antioch), Turkey, Thubron traced the footsteps of ancient traders and legendary explorers as he traveled the fabled Silk Road.

I have to say, this is one of the best travelogues I've read. I enjoyed it immensely. I've always found the Silk Road a fascinating subject,
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and Thubron brought both ancient legend and the modern region to life.
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LibraryThing member starbox
Setting out from Xian, the author travels overland, taking in Tibetan monks; Yongchang (where he explores a fascinating tale of a Roman army division being sent out to fight the Parthians in 50 AD...and the sometimes 'European looking' locals...meets the Uighur, on the edge of the Gobi desert, Ends
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up in a SARS quarantine camp, through Krgyzstan and Samarkand...and into Afghanistan, still ravaged by war, the silenced people of Iran, and through the Elburz Mtns to Antioch.
It's masterly writing. I was glad to nget to the end but that's in no way a reflection of a beautifully written travel narrative.
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