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THUBRON Colin

Great-Britain

L’ombre de la route de la soie (Hoebeke, 2008)

Colin Thubron, CBE is a British travel writer and novelist. He was born in London on June 14, 1939 and educated at Eton College. Before becoming a writer, he worked for a short time in publishing and film-making. He was appointed a CBE in the New Year’s Honours December 2006 and is a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature (1969). Colin Thubron is a distant descendant of John Dryden, the most influential writer of the 17th century and was a friend of Bruce Chatwin’s.

His first travel book, Mirror to Damascus, published in 1968 followed shortly afterwards by The Hills of Adonis : A Quest in Lebanon, a lyrical account of a journey through the country, pre civil-war dealt primarily with the Middle-East, including Israel with Jerusalem (1969).

The author has stated : ’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). The novels seem to be reactions against this, and mostly arise from more introverted, personal concerns : often being set in enclosed places (a prison, a mental hospital, an amnesiac’s head). My writing swings between the two genres.
Among the Russians (1983) describes a journey he made by car through western Russia during the Brezhnev era. Behind the Wall : A Journey through China (1987) won both the Hawthornden Prize and the Thomas Cook Travel Book Award. The Lost Heart of Asia (1994) narrates his travels through the newly-independent central Asian republics, exploring the effects of the collapse of the Soviet Union on the region. He returned to Russia for his most recent travel narrative, In Siberia (1999).

Colin Thubron is also the author of several novels, including a historical fiction, Emperor (1978), set in A.D. 312 ; A Cruel Madness (1984), winner of the PEN/Macmillan Silver Pen Award ; Falling (1989) ; Turning Back the Sun (1991), a haunting tale of love and exile ; and Distance (1996). His new novel, To the Last City (2002), tells the story of a group of travellers in Peru.

In many ways, Thubron’s work harks back to an earlier age of travel writing. He is one of the last of the ‘gentlemen-travellers’ - Eton-educated, erudite and willing to immerse himself in the countries in question for a long period of time. ‘Modern travel writing has always been created with a certain amount of gimmicky,’ he told The Times, ‘which surprises me because I don’t really understand why you have to do that. The world abroad seems sufficiently extraordinary and peculiar without my having to resort to all that.’

In his travels, Colin Thubron has found himself in some tight spots indeed. He has been chased after by the KGB in Kiev, found himself in an uncomfortable position in a bathtub with a Chinese nabab, and forced to sell his jeans to a Rissian giant who could hardly struggle into them.

The author knows how to instil the very soul of his travels in his writings, describe the the comical or ridiculous aspects of some of his encounters when two worlds collide for the first time, and the solitude or despondency, the fear - the fear for his life at times - the traveller experiences on the road.

En Français


Bibliography

Selected works

  • Mirror to Damascus (Heinemann, 1967)
  • The Hills of Adonis : A Quest in Lebanon (Heinemann, 1968)
  • Jerusalem (Heinemann, 1969)
  • Journey into Cyprus (Heinemann, 1975)
  • The God in the Mountain (Heinemann, 1977)
  • Istanbul (Time Life, 1978)
  • The Venetians (Time-Life, 1980)
  • The Ancient Mariners (Time-Life, 1981)
  • The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden (Hamish Hamilton, 1982)
  • Among the Russians (Heinemann, 1983)
  • Behind the Wall : A Journey through China (Heinemann, 1987)
  • The Silk Road : Beyond the Celestial Kingdom (Simon & Schuster, 1989)
  • The Lost Heart of Asia (Heinemann, 1994)
  • In Siberia (Chatto & Windus, 1999)
  • Shadow of the Silk Road (2006)

Novels

  • Emperor (Heinemann, 1978)
  • A Cruel Madness (Heinemann, 1984)
  • Falling (Heinemann, 1989)
  • Turning Back the Sun (Heinemann, 1991)
  • Distance (Heinemann, 1996)
  • To the Last City (Chatto & Windus, 2002)

Synopsis of Shadow of the Silk Road

There was never one Silk Road — but several. The route chosen by Colin Thubron passes through China, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan, Iran and Turkey, taking in the most sterile desert on earth (the Taklamakan) and the strife-torn mountain valleys of today’s conflicts, as he travels from the tomb of the Yellow Emperor (the mythic progenitor of the Chinese people) to the ancient port of Antioch, by local bus, truck, car — occasionally Landrover, horse or camel. He covers 7,000 miles in 8 months, and confesses that it is the most difficult, complex and ambitious journey he has undertaken in 40 years of travel.

The Silk Road is a huge network of arteries and veins, splitting and converging across the breadth of Asia. Chinese silk has turned up in the hair of a 10th-century-BC Egyptian mummy ; equally, the tartan plaids of 3000-year-old mummies in the Chinese desert echo those of early Celts. To be travelling the Silk Road, writes Colin Thubron, is to be travelling the history of the world : tracing the passage not just of trade and armies, but of ideas, religions and inventions. Yet — despite the lure of the history — this book is as much about Asia today. Its themes include different Islams (oppressed in China ; fervent in Afghanistan and Iran ; cautiously monitored in Uzbekistan) ; contrast (no cities could be more different than ancient Samarkand and modern Teheran) ; and the way that today’s borders are meaningless because the true boundaries are made by tribe, ethnicity, language and religion.

Shadow of the Silk Road is a brilliant account of an ancient world in modern ferment

Destination Kailash

Hoëbeke - 2012

Le Mont Kailash est la plus sacrée des montagnes du monde, puisqu’un cinquième de l’humanité le tient pour un lieu saint. Isolé derrière l’Himalaya central, il serait - selon le mythe - la source de l’univers créé à partir des eaux cosmiques et de l’esprit de Brahma. Ce pic n’a jamais été escaladé - son caractère sacré l’interdit - mais il y a des siècles que pèlerins hindous et bouddhistes marchent en cercles rituels autour du Kailash. Colin Thubron leur emboîte le pas, arrivé par le Népal au terme d’un trek périlleux qui lui fait franchir de hauts cols tibétains pour l’amener finalement aux lacs magiques miroitant au pied du Kailash. La finesse d’intuition et l’empathie naturelle de Colin Thubron s’allient à la puissance d’évocation et au lyrisme de son écriture dans ce livre de voyage d’une beauté incantatoire. Son rare talent d’impressionniste donne à voir et à ressentir gens et paysages, qui se dessinent en trois dimensions dans ses pages. Il discute avec des villageois installés dans des coins déserts, avec des moines vivant dans des monastères délabrés. Il raconte les histoires des exilés et des explorateurs excentriques venus d’Occident. Mais Destination Kailash, montagne sacrée du Tibet recèle aussi une autre dimension. Colin Thubron entreprend ce voyage peu de temps après le décès du dernier membre de sa famille, sa mère, qu’il a accompagnée dans ses dernières heures : c’est une sorte de <

>, une façon de laisser un signe du passage des êtres chers. Tout un paysage intérieur de solitude, d’amour et de chagrin se révèle à la faveur de sa longue marche autour du Kailash, géant de pierre et de glace révéré des foules qu’il rencontre - un paysage qui lui restitue de précieux fragments de ses propres origines. De vieilles photos aperçues dans les albums familiaux prennent une subtile réalité dans ces lieux évocateurs de ces jeunes gens qu’étaient ses parents du temps des Indes britanniques.* On est là en présence d’un summum absolu de la littérature de voyage, sous la plume d’un auteur incomparable par la richesse de son expérience, et de sa sensibilité.


L’ombre de la route de la soie

Gallimard - 2010

De la dimension romanesque du réel

Avec Colin Thubron, Paolo Rumiz, Jim Fergus, David Vann et John Vaillant - Saint-Malo 2012

Avec Colin Thubron, Paolo Rumiz, Jim Fergus, David Vann et John Vaillant


Bruce Chatwin : la sagesse du nomade

Avec Elisabeth Chatwin, Nicholas Shakespeare et Colin Thubron - Saint-Malo 2012

Avec Elisabeth Chatwin, Nicholas Shakespeare et Colin Thubron


L’imaginaire de la route

Saint-Malo 2008
11h45 : L’imaginaire de la route
Colum MC CANN, Colin THUBRON, Olivier GERMAIN-THOMAS, André VELTER, Rory MAC LEAN.

Révéler la dimension romanesque du réel

Saint-Malo 2008