Having learned Mandarin, and travelling alone on foot, bicycle and train, Colin Thubron set off on a 10,000-mile journey from Beijing to the borders of Burma. He travelled through the wind-swept wastes of the Gobi Desert and finished at the far end of the Great Wall. What he reveals is an astonishing diversity, a land whose still unmeasured resources strain to meet an awesome demand, and an ancient people still reeling from the devastation of the Cultural Revolution.
Reviewed by Maggie Fergusson in Slightly Foxed Issue 58.
We meet on an autumn morning, sun streaming through the French windows of Thubron’s elegant Holland Park drawing-room. We sit in deep, white sofas, eating biscuits. Surely Thubron, now 79, can’t want to leave all this behind and subject himself to the challenges and privations of another three-month journey? Yes, he says. He does. He is preparing himself to travel down the Amur, the ninth longest river in the world. It runs between Russia and China, so he is brushing up the Russian and Mandarin he learned for Among the Russians (1983) and Behind the Wall (1987). He is also playing regular games of tennis with his Russian tutor, to keep fit – ‘although I’ve been rather lucky on that score: I’ve been fit all my life’.
Extract from Slightly Foxed Issue 58, Summer 2018
‘An achievement of great and lasting brilliance’ Patrick Leigh Fermor
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