The Amur River Between Russia and China

Colin Thubron, 1939-

Book - 2021

In this masterful book, an acclaimed travel writer and novelist, in his eightieth year, takes a dramatic journey on the little known Far East Asian river that forms the highly contested border between Russia and China, covering almost 3,000 miles.

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New York, NY : Harper, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers 2021.
Main Author
Colin Thubron, 1939- (-)
First U.S. edition
Item Description
Includes index.
Physical Description
291 pages : illustration ; 24 cm
  • Map
  • Chapter 1. The Source
  • Chapter 2. Steppelands
  • Chapter 3. The Treaty
  • Chapter 4. The Shilka
  • Chapter 5. The Lost Fortress
  • Chapter 6. The City of Annunciation
  • Chapter 7. Black Dragon River
  • Chapter 8. Khabarovsk
  • Chapter 9. City of the Dawn
  • Chapter 10. The Promise
  • Acknowledgements
  • Index
Review by Booklist Review

Acclaimed travel writer and novelist Thubron returns to the Russian-Chinese borderlands to follow a remote river with a turbulent past. Emerging from obscure bogs in the Mongolian wilderness, the Amur twists wide and murky through the taiga, draining over two-hundred tributaries before spilling into the Pacific. Earth's tenth largest river, it runs through some of the planet's least populated regions. Long fascinated by Russia, Thubron's earlier visits to Siberia probed an impoverished land, incompletely assimilated into the USSR. Today the region's economic prospects remain bleak, and grievances about Moscow are drowned out by complaints about China's regional influence. Across the border, the 1858 Treaty of Aigun, under which Russia seized eastern Siberia from China, remains a sore point. Thubron, now in his eighties, remains impressively consistent in his proclivity for spartan accommodations and opinionated, hard-living tour guides. But a new melancholy permeates his starkly elegant prose. The Amur was to be Russia's "artery to the Pacific," full of promise. Instead, it became "a labyrinth of shoals, shallows and dead ends," a land of desolate beauty and stunted possibility.

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Novelist and travel writer Thubron (Night of Fire) evokes in this breathtaking account the beauty and harshness of the 1,100-mile-long Amur River that forms the border between Russia and China. Setting out on horseback from the river's source in Mongolia, where a campfire is "the sole human light seen only by wolves or woken bears," Thubron travels by sailboat, train, and car to the Russian town of Nikolaevsk-na-Amure, where, "thick with silt and pollution," the Amur empties into the Pacific Ocean. He writes sensitively and cogently about the life along the river's shores, profiling the semi-nomadic Buryats, whom Stalin and his Mongolian counterpart, Khorloogiin Choibalsam, persecuted relentlessly in the 1930s, and the Manchu, who rose up from the region in the 17th century and ruled China for nearly 300 years. In desolate villages, aged cities, crumbling monasteries, and roadside shrines, Thubron documents the interplay of politics and history, contrasting the "subdued fatalism" of Russians living in the river basin with the bustling optimism of the Chinese, whose glitzy restaurants and markets mask signs of discontent. Thubron's powers of observation and his dogged determination to complete this arduous journey--despite numerous injuries and a police interrogations--make this a top-notch travelogue. Agent: Clare Alexander, Aitken Alexander Assoc. (Sept.)

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Review by Kirkus Book Review

The celebrated British travel writer takes us on a fascinating journey along the Amur River. In his latest adventure, octogenarian Thubron planned to follow the river "as it flows through south-east Siberia then meets China, then breaks for the Pacific." For more than 1,000 of its 2,600 miles (which includes its source river, the Argun), the Amur forms the border between the Russian Far East and northeastern China. The Chinese call it Heilongjiang, which means "Black Dragon River, for the dragon's imperial grandeur." One of his first guides, a Mongolian horseman, warned him about the dangerous, "almost impassable" landscape. Shortly after starting out, the author suffered an injury, which forced him to question his body's ability to keep up--yet, as always, he persevered. Standing out as a foreigner in a region that rarely hosts travelers, Thubron became the object of covert attention. Often, this curiosity resulted only in extended gazes and innocent questions, but he also endured numerous police interrogations and a nagging fear that he was being followed. Accompanied by various guides, the author made his way through this vast, unforgiving territory by car, boat, and train, evoking with beautiful detail and compassion its rich history and culture. Though the region is shrouded with mistrust, Thubron effectively brings it to life. Throughout his trip, the author engaged in discussions with local residents, who openly shared their personal feelings and histories as if they were longtime friends. Many villagers lamented the loss of their native cultures and offered conflicting views about the ownership of the region. The Chinese spoke of Russian land grabs and the profound unease of Chinese artifacts lying inside Russian borders, while Mongolians and Russians claimed that the Chinese were stripping the land and infiltrating every aspect of business. Thubron also laments the demise of the region's Indigenous cultures and languages. Readers will, too, as they savor this enthralling travel narrative. A captivating portrait of a remote region of the world that many readers may know nothing about. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.