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Talk - Colin Thubron

Novelist and travel writer Colin Thubron has for the last thirty years roamed the antique lands of the east, developing on his way a dry, poetic, first-person style which splashes your mind with exotic images as he makes you aware of how history has come to shape the present, and asks an odd assortment of local characters what they think of their lot. His latest book, fresh on the shelves in hardback, Shadow of the Silk Road, is perhaps his most ambitious yet. It’s his account of a 7,000–mile journey along the trade route that once connected Dynastic China with the Roman Empire, stretching from Chagan (now Xi’an, in East-central China) to Antioch, on the Mediterranean (in what is now Turkey).

“I travelled from Xi’an along the edge of the Taklamakan Desert through the former Soviet Republics of Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, through Northern Afghanistan and Iran to Turkey,” he tells me, on the phone, thus shortening an eight-month trip, split into two sections because of infighting warlords in Afghanistan, into one sentence. Colin, born in 1939, has a gentle, old-fashioned university-educated voice, and oozes politeness. I want to ask him Boy’s Own questions about his adventures, but end up feeling strangely compelled to touch on geo-political subjects, ie the evidence of the Chinese economic miracle and Islamic fundamentalism. He answers me at considerable length, taklking about how Chinese peasants have been left behind by the economic miracle, and the vast differences between the Islamic world as you travel West from China. (continued overleaf...)


Colin Thubron: 7,000 miles through Asia on the Silk Road,
and now on to Lewes