Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Day 3: Thubron's Travel Works on Central Asia—D.L.R.

Four days from now, on June 14th, Colin Thubron will celebrate his 70th birthday. Born in 1939, this Eton College grad has for the last forty years been one of Britain's premiere travel writers and novelists. His journeys, across Asia especially, have been vicariously lived through many of his generation who have shared his curiosity to know more about the countries whos politics have dominated the world stage for so long.

"My travel books spring from curiosity about worlds which my generation has found threatening: China, Russia, Islam (and perhaps from a desire to humanise and understand them)." —Colin Thubron
source: British Council Contemporary Writers

"I have been afraid of Russia ever since I could remember. When I was a boy its mass dominated the map which covered the classroom wall; it was tented a wan green, I recall, and was distorted by Mercator's projection so that its tundras suffocated half the world. Where other nations—Japan, Brazil, India—clamored with imagined scents and colors, Russia gave out only silence, and was somehow incomplete. I grew up in its shadow, just as my parents had grown up in the shadow of Germany. Journeys rarely begin where we think they do. Mine, perhaps, started in that classroom, where the green-tinted mystery hypnotized me during math lessons."
—Colin Thubron, Among the Russians

The wonder of Thubron's travel writing is that he does not simply wish to travel to all the politically taboo lands of the world and write about their political alienation, but that he is able to see past the fears, tyranies, and deprevations of politics and can paint pictures of lands and peoples that remind us of our common humanity. Behind his own curiosity there is a suspician that behind every tyrant there is a substantive culture, behind every regiem there is a rich history, behind every politician there are simply people. So while Thubron's generation, and that of his parents, were often left to cower and quake because dots were shifting on a map, little flags were advancing across lines, or because printed headlines cast shadowy fears across their hearts and minds, young Colin sat staring silently up at the wan green mass anticipating the people he would one day encounter there.

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