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Shadow of the Silk Road
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Shadow of the Silk Road

3.76  ·  Rating details ·  2,843 Ratings  ·  328 Reviews
There was never one Silk Road - but several. The route chosen by Colin Thubron passes through China, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan, Iran and Turkey, taking in the most sterile desert on earth (the Taklamakan) and the strife-torn mountain valleys of today's conflicts, as he travels from the tomb of the Yellow Emperor (the mythic progenitor of the Chinese people) to th ...more
Paperback, 384 pages
Published September 7th 2006 by Chatto Windus
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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
May 22, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, travel
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 ...more
Style detracted from content.
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 nation
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.

Jan 17, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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 me ...more
Tony Taylor
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 difficul ...more
Aug 05, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: viaggi
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?
Mindy McAdams
Aug 13, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: travel, nonfiction
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 j
Sep 22, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: travel
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 oc
Nov 26, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, travel
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 l ...more
Aug 16, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: travelogues
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 thril
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 ...more
Tory Wagner
Aug 07, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Feb 20, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people interested in cultural history, especially along the Silk Road.
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 h ...more
Janet Eshenroder
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 se ...more
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, Th
Mar 07, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 A ...more
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 hi
Jun 24, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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 an ...more
Jun 03, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, travel
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 tha
May 06, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 t ...more
Apr 03, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2008_books
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 amazingl ...more
Nov 15, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favourites, 2012, travel, 2016
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 th ...more
Jan 14, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Nancy Jurss
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.
Feb 02, 2010 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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 his ...more
Jun 08, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: abandoned
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.
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.
Un gran bel libro, perfettamente nello stile di Thubron.
Grazie alla sua bravura nello scrivere mi permette di visitare paesi nei quali, onestamente, non credo di andare a breve e soprattutto fa spesso interessanti divagazioni storiche raccontando i luoghi che va vedere. I suoi incontri con le persone, poi sono sempre fonte di riflessione e conoscenza e da appassionata di antropologia non posso che apprezzarli moltissimo.
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Colin Thubron, CBE FRSL is a Man Booker nominated British travel writer and novelist.

In 2008, The Times ranked him 45th on their list of the 50 greatest postwar British writers. He is a contributor to The New York Review of Books, The Times, The Times Literary Supplement and The New York Times. His books have been translated into more than twenty languages. Thubron was appointed a CBE in the 2007
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“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 ...” 5 likes
“mountains, and cried: ‘That is the tomb of Kochoi, the companion of Manas!” 0 likes
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