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on 8 March 2015
I usually devour books like this but I just got bored stiff with all the detailed description. I imagine if you were travelling along the Silk Road it would be very enlightening. However, having tried and tried to finish the book I have now given up. My loss I'm sure.
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on 27 September 2008
The London based author, Colin Thubron, travelled through China, Central Asia, northern Afghanistan, Western Asia, and reached the capital of Silk Road, Antakya (Anoioch) in 8 months. He travelled with donkey, camels, third-class trains, buses, and jeep.

He describes an abundance of fascinating accounts in relation to those countries' history, politics, commerce, industry, and the history of the Silk Road. Having visited many relatively unknown parts of these countries and discovered a series of the factual events, he conveys a number of untold stories of kings, aristocrats, and landowners. The descriptions include the dramatic change of Xian between the beginning of the 1980s and 2000, a number of half-constructed or largely decayed villages, displaced communities following the pollution and disasters throughout China.

Colin Thubron clearly gives the local people's feelings, emotions, and struggles, that have been caused by the corrupt governments and totally disorganised bureaucracies. It is wonderfully written description of the Silk Road route in modern time.
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on 16 October 2008
I read this whilst travelling along the silk road through Uzbekistan. Thubron writes beautifully and with real emotion about the people and the places he visits, and evokes a real sense of what it's like to be there. I loved it - it made my journey so much more enjoyable and helped me understand the history, geography and culture of the place. Since returning from Uzbekistan, I've read a few books about Central Asia - but it's Thubron's book I remember. I'm about to embark on exploring some of his other titles, albeit from the comfort of my own home. Thanks Colin!
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"I feel like a stray animal. The face in the mirror belongs somewhere else. For a sad instant I mistake it for my father's. But it seems startlingly solid now: not the refinement of eyes and ears I had imagined on my journey. I see features harsher than mine, or his. A wind-tan has darkened them since China. The eyes are hung with tired crescents. One tooth is chipped, so that smiling is a qualified event. And my fingernails are still jagged from climbing Maimundiz. As I fall asleep between white sheets, I feel surprised that anyone ever talked to me, belatedly grateful." - Author Colin Thubron at the western terminus of the Silk Road

For the imaginative and adventurous mired in the daily drudge, travel essays can provide escape. They've always been my great diversion, leading me to places I shall never see. And travel essays range from the moronically superficial (The Ridiculous Race: 26,000 Miles, 2 Guys, 1 Globe, No Airplanes by Steve Hely and Vali Chandrasekaran) to the humorously informative (anything by Iowa's treasure, Bill Bryson, e.g. Notes from a Small Island) to the cleverly unusual (Attention All Shipping: A Journey Round the Shipping Forecast by Charlie Connelly) to the classic. SHADOW OF THE SILK ROAD certainly qualifies in the last category.

Here, Thubron retraces the ancient trading route, the Silk Road, roughly 7,000 miles from Xian in central China west across that country's vastness on a path between the mountains of Tibet and the deserts to the north to Kyrgyzstan, then through Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Iran and Turkey, finishing at the ancient, ruined port of Seleucia Pierea on the Mediterranean.

Thubron has traveled this road before in The Silk Road: Beyond the Celestial Kingdom and The Lost Heart of Asia. Colin takes this latest journey in the years 2003-2004. His love for the lands he traverses - more specifically, an affection for their histories, perhaps - shows in the tenor of his narrative, which approaches journalistic reporting and which, while never humorous, at times is almost lyrical.

"Outside (his hotel room in vaguely menacing Maimana, Afghanistan) there was no sound but the scraping of the pine trees in the wind. Danger was cumulative, of course, it crept up step by step half-noticed as your journey took you deeper, farther. Until you woke up at night in a place beyond help."

SHADOW OF THE SILK ROAD includes 4 useful maps depicting Colin's route. A photo section would have been most welcome, but it's the infrequent travel essay that includes such so I've ceased expecting one. Indeed, the absence of a camera in the author's possession eased his way through at least one tense border crossing.

Periodically in the text, Thubron engages in a mental conversation with an imaginary Sogdian trader of old. Drifting towards sleep in his Antioch hotel room near the last stop of his journey, Colin's fantasy travel companion gives voice to an inner truth which perhaps had relevance when the author wrote the book, at which time he was in his mid-60s:

"At first, when you're young, each place you come to is poorer than the place ahead, which you do not yet know. The other is extraordinary, beautiful. So you go on, perhaps for many years. You go on until you realize that the trading was also good, with certain shortcomings, in the city you left behind. Soon younger men say you have lost ambition; older, that you have grown wiser. Then, as you settle, there is comfort, and a kind of sadness."

Thubron turned seventy in June of this year. I wonder if he has found comfort. In any case, to the author honor is due for the expeditions of discovery on which he has served as our consummate guide.
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on 2 November 2014
Not only does Thubron do his research and writes well, but engages the readers interest all the way. He educates without being patronising. In fact everything he writes is readable, informative and a joy to read
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on 1 May 2014
I bought this as it was our book club read but only one person in the club finished it!! It reads more like a travel guide and to me seemed to be trying to be too clever and esoteric. I am sure some people will enjoy it but none of us did.
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on 27 April 2012
I fancy myself as quite the armchair traveller, and I bought this book, along with another by Thubron, as an impulse purchase in my local Waterstone's. I read this one second out of the two.

This book chronicles the author's nine month journey from Xian in China to Antioch in Turkey, through the central Asian countries, Afghanistan and Iran.

If you've never read anything by Thubron, his travel books are quite different to the normal "first-I-did-this-then-I-went-there" format of travel literature. Thubron's books, in my opinion, read much more like a novel than a diary. There are also copious accounts of the people Thubron encounters. This does make the book much more personable, but can get a bit tiresome after a while.

The blurb of this book extols the virtues of Thubron's "inimitable prose", but I found it all a bit unnecessary. By all means try and spice up the language a little bit, but I shouldn't have to to be made to feel uneducated by the constant use of words such as "crenellation" and "faience"

Overall, an interesting read, documenting a fascinating journey through countries that we in the West probably don't know an awful lot about. You can tell that Colin Thubron is a talented and highly intelligent writer, but I'm not entirely sure that I personally like his style of travel writing.
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on 8 December 2013
Thurbon tells us about parts of the world I did not know much about,it is contemporary, it has beautiful colorful English. It is highly recommendable.
I wished his journeys would not end.
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on 19 October 2011
This book follows Thubron on a long journey following the old silk trade routes from Xian to Antioch. Although he starts in a city booming due to the tourist industry, he quickly leaves behind well-trodden paths. His travels through western China, Kazakhstan, Afghanistan and Iran give a glimpse of areas little-seen by western eyes. Thubron is at his best when describing the people that he meets; bringing across their characters and their views of the places where they live. This is intelligent travel writing, but not pompous or intimidating. A good read.
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on 22 September 2009
'A distant disturbance at one end of the road trembled along its length like an electric current,so that the pressure of pastoral tribes along the Great Wall, in a relentless chain reaction, might unleash the Huns over Europe.'
Colin Thubron writes in beautiful prose explaining the past history of the Silk Road and how it shaped our world and history.He journeys alone except for friends and guides that he encounters in the different provinces and countries that he travels.His journey is an epic from Xian in China to Antioch in Syria.He explains early on that for most traders in ancient times it was a relay race and not a marathon journey. Caravans did not usually travel the whole length. Thus China believed that cotton came from a 'vegetable lamb' while the Romans had decided that silk must grow on trees.Throughout the book past is woven with the present.While the Silk Road is no longer an important trading route;it traces the faultlines of much of our modern world.
In China there are fathers left numb by the effects of the Cultural Revolution, an Uighur,leaving for Kazakhstan, laments the concreting over of his culture, while in Uzbekistan a grandmother reads Zhuvok's war memoirs and speaks of Stalin and a USSR empire that the tsunami of history has swept away.His conversations with local people give great insight to each country and also give a sense of the author's own quest for meaning,enlightment and faith.This is a book which works as a travelogue,history and personal journey.One of the most haunting images that the author conjures is that of Lao-tsu leaving China for the West on the back of a buffalo:'Thereafter, for many centuries,when new faiths arrived along the Silk Road,people wondered if in fact they were foreign creeds at all, or if they were not the ancint wisdom of China returning home.'
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