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Chatwin and the Hippopotamus

Colin Thubron, 22 June 1989

What am I doing here 
by Bruce Chatwin.
Cape, 367 pp., £12.95, May 1989, 0 224 02634 8
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... It is hard to read this book dispassionately. Its gathering of stories, portraits, travelogues and fragments embodies such a rush and depth of enthusiasm – the stuff of many lives lived in a single too-short one – that the reader grows haunted by regret for everything Bruce Chatwin would have written had he not died so early. The selection was made at his own request ...

‘I’m English,’ I said

Christopher Tayler: Colin Thubron, 14 July 2011

To a Mountain in Tibet 
by Colin Thubron.
Chatto, 227 pp., £16.99, February 2011, 978 0 7011 8379 0
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... like to project themselves as illusionless figures, immune to prettifying, exoticising urges. Colin Thubron isn’t shy about not liking places: he often endures bouts of melancholy on his journeys and writes about the way ‘a little architectural charm, or a trick of the light, could turn other people’s poverty to a bearable snapshot’. But an ...

No Place for Journalists

Hilary Mantel, 1 October 1987

The Saudis: Inside the Desert Kingdom 
by Sandra Mackey.
Harrap, 433 pp., £12.95, August 1987, 0 245 54592 1
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Behind the Wall: A Journey through China 
by Colin Thubron.
Heinemann, 308 pp., £10.95, September 1987, 0 434 77988 1
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... vicariously. In China, however, Westerners can now travel more freely than the people themselves. Colin Thubron is a gifted and accomplished travel writer, whose book Among the Russians has been described as one of the best travel books written this century. To him the opening-up of China was ‘like discovering a new room in a house in which you’d ...

Short Cuts

Daniel Soar: Pop Poetry, 25 July 2002

... to. I’m staying put this summer. If I’m to believe Auden I should be reading In Siberia by Colin Thubron, or perhaps Muddling through in Madagascar by Dervla ...

The Way to Glory

Hilary Mantel, 3 March 1988

Chinese Lives: An Oral History of Contemporary China 
by Zhang Xinxin and Sang Ye, edited by W.J.F. Jenner and Delia Davin.
Macmillan, 367 pp., £14.95, February 1988, 0 333 43364 5
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... Bai Xing, ‘Old Hundred Names’; the shortage of surnames bespeaks a passion for anonymity. When Colin Thubron began his recent travels, he feared that he might not make contact with the individual at all, and when Behind the Wall was published, he spoke of ‘the strange kind of delight’ the traveller feels when the Chinese behave in a way he can ...
The Trick of It 
by Michael Frayn.
Viking, 172 pp., £11.95, September 1989, 0 670 82985 4
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The Long Lost Journey 
by Jennifer Potter.
Bloomsbury, 179 pp., £12.95, September 1989, 0 7475 0463 6
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by Colin Thubron.
Heinemann, 152 pp., £10.95, September 1989, 0 434 77978 4
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Coming to Light 
by Elspeth Davie.
Hamish Hamilton, 191 pp., £12.95, August 1989, 0 241 12861 7
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A Careless Widow 
by V.S. Pritchett.
Chatto, 176 pp., £12.95, September 1989, 0 7011 3438 0
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... sufficiently establish itself. If Jennifer Potter’s heroine is technically a fallen woman, Colin Thubron’s hero has to do with falling in a physical and, more vaguely, metaphysical sense. Mark Swabey is in prison for a crime whose actual nature isn’t revealed until near the end of this terse tale, but which is connected with his passion for ...

He is English, after all

Neal Ascherson: Unboreable Leigh Fermor, 7 November 2013

The Broken Road: From the Iron Gates to Mount Athos 
by Patrick Leigh Fermor.
John Murray, 362 pp., £25, September 2013, 978 1 84854 752 0
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... not finish that book. There’s no real explanation. But now Artemis Cooper, his biographer, and Colin Thubron have done it for him – or done as much as they could.* The Broken Road (they chose the title) is more or less the manuscript ‘Paddy’ left behind; it breaks off at Burgas, in Bulgaria, before he reached Istanbul. With it comes ‘the Green ...

One Enduring Trace of Our Presence

Maya Jasanoff: Governing Iraq, 5 April 2007

Occupational Hazards: My Time Governing in Iraq 
by Rory Stewart.
Picador, 422 pp., £17.99, June 2006, 0 330 44049 7
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... that travel writers on Central Asia – a list that would include the Etonians Robert Byron and Colin Thubron, the Marlburian Bruce Chatwin and the gentry Scot William Dalrymple – so often boast superior educations if not pedigrees. Aspects of Stewart’s response to Iraq show the influence of his earlier travels. His interest in the culture of the ...


M.F. Burnyeat: The Siberian concept of theft, 19 February 2004

... between owner and finder. It is a nice question how this stipulation would apply to my passport. Colin Thubron’s wonderful book In Siberia (1999) describes the author’s visit to a village on the river Yenisei in the far north inhabited largely by one of the native peoples of Siberia, the Entsy. It is a remote, brutal place where the only consolation ...

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