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The Lost Heart of Asia Paperback – September 1, 1995


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial (September 1, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060926562
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060926564
  • Product Dimensions: 7.9 x 5.3 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,562,748 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

West of China, south of Russia, hemmed in by mountains, steppe, and desert, lie the five Central Asian republics of the former Soviet Union. Cut loose from Moscow in the early '90s, the five "Stans" (Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan) discover that their newly found freedom plays tug-o-war with despair and a nostalgia for the certainties of the Soviet past. It's during this time that author Colin Thubron travels the width of central Asia, asking questions about the past, present, and future. Not content to simply bounce from place to place, Thubron travels from person to person, uncovering their many vibrant stories and developing a deep understanding of the area's lesser-known history. Kyrgyz and Uzbeks debate the place of Islam. Koreans and Germans, descendants from forced migrants, wonder if they know enough of their ethnic tongue to return to their homelands. Russians find themselves left behind, disbelieving, as the tide of Russian power recedes toward Moscow.

Central Asia was mostly off limits to foreigners during the Soviet years, and while officials are still uncertain about how to deal with a backpack-wearing solo traveler, the locals Thubron meets are not. Thubron finds the heart of Asia in the hearts of its people, swimming in a sea of tea, vodka, and hospitality. From the oldest-known Quran to a deserted Soviet naval base on the shores of a high mountain lake 1,500 miles from the ocean (used to test torpedoes far from spying eyes), Thubron's writing echoes the melancholy emptiness of the wide spaces he passes through. The Lost Heart of Asia is a rare meeting of a marvelous writer and a mysterious land. --Ken Peavler

From Publishers Weekly

A 6000-mile journey takes Thubron (Where Nights are Longest) through Central Asia to the countries of the ancient Mongol empire of Tamerlane-Tashkent, Kazakh, Samarkand, Bukhara-more recently part of the Soviet Union. He supplies helpful historical background and a multitude of conversations with residents. He shows that while several generations grew to adulthood under communism, previously proscribed nationalist, Muslim and other religious practices have quickly reasserted themselves as these republics have gained nationhood. Thubron finds a range of reactions to the collapse of the Soviet Union: some people are nostalgic for the unity it provided, however repressive the regime, but many seem overjoyed and look forward to material improvements even though the problems confronting each country are sobering. Thubron has a gift for describing the ambiences of unfamiliar villages and cities, but his self-conscious literary style sometimes distracts from the instructive content. First serial to Conde Nast Traveler.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

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Deeply insightful, writes in vivid, rich language.
Ravi Aron
Colin Thubron's travel book about the five new/old nations of Central Asia, written in the early 90s, definitely pleases.
Bob Newman
Overall an enjoyable book of travels written by the best travel writer in the world.
KJ

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

41 of 43 people found the following review helpful By Carool Kersten on June 3, 2002
Format: Paperback
British travel writer Colin Thubron is one of the most accomplished representatives of the trade. The trilogy about his exploits in the former Soviet Union: 'Among the Russians', 'Siberia', and 'The Lost Heart of Asia' are literary masterpieces.
Thubron has that rare ability to find the strangest out-of-the way places, meet weird people, and then render his observations and encounters in beautiful prose.
It is always dangerous - and somehow also unfair - to compare writers, for every writer deserves to judged on the basis of his own merits. However, perusing the oeuvre of Thubron, his descriptions often remind one of fellow travel-writer Norman Lewis (heralded by Graham Greene as the best of the twentieth-century), while his prose appears to betray Conradian influences.
Thubron takes us on a simultaneous journey through the enormous landmass of Central Asia and history. Most of the lands he visits lie along the Silk Road. Throughout the centuries these steppes and mountain ranges were invaded by Scythians, Huns, Mongols, Turks, and Russians. Prosperous cities such as Samarkand and Bukhara saw the great Buddhist and Islamic civilizations come and go. Under the Communist Soviet Union they were reduced to squalid backwaters. Polution has destroyed the region's lakes and rivers, and disastrous agrarian reforms have depleted the soil, turning once fertile lands into desert.
Along the route Thubron meets some amazing characters. Somehow he manages to find that curious balance between being an observer, not getting in the way of the narrative, and establishing a true rapport with the people he meets, so as to give us a rare insight into their lifes.
In view of the current worldwide attention for Central-Asia, and the new 'Great Game' that is presently being played out there, everybody who is trying to understand this enigmatic area should read 'The Lost Heart of Asia'.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Richard Kurtz on June 4, 2001
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I ordered this book after having been blown away by his later book --the third book in his Soviet Union trilogy --IN SIBERIA, which I thought was absolutely amazing and incredibly involving and one of the best travel essays I ahve ever encountered--this book was good, but not quite up to my expectations which may have been too high based on the earlier read--in any event Thurbon is truly my hero, my soul -mate and I admit I have lived vicariously through these two books -- he is, if half of his adventures are true, an amazingly persistent and daring traveler. He has obviously done extensive research in anticipation of his travels to these remote and apparently soemwhat dangerous spots and I look forward to spending more time this Summer sharing more of his adventures --though many iof his earlier books are, unfortunately, currently out-of-print.
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51 of 63 people found the following review helpful By Vincent on June 5, 2006
Format: Paperback
From the get go it is abundantly evident that Colin Thubron is an extremely talented writer. He has a way with words that I have not seen in any other travel writing I read; his book is the first I have went through that transcended a quaint, shallow, "Let's Go Travel Guide" type of narrative that storms through cities in a few days, marvels at surface elements, then moves on. There is nothing rushed about Thubron's writing style, his descriptions are thought out, in depth, and delicate. This unique distinction I think is vital for anyone doing travel writing in Central Asia: in the minds of Westerners (who will compose the bulk of people reading this kind of writing), Central Asia is a vacuum, both geographically, culturally, and historically. Few Westerners know much about this area, which is a shame, since geographically, culturally, and historically Central Asia is perhaps one of the most evocative places in the world. It is therefore vital for any travel writing to bring Central Asia to life, which Thubron definitely succeeds at.

It is also clear that Thubron is an excellent traveller, so this book is an good read not only to learn about Central Asia, but also to learn about travelling in general. Despite claims of modesty at the beginning of the book, Thubron seems to have a pretty solid command of Russian, which has permitted him to conduct complex conversations with the people he meets along the ways about politics, history, culture, and religion. Morever, Thubron has a unique talent in being able to locate people who are willing to talk to him about these things, which he does often. Finally, Thubron seems to have a near encylopaedic knowledge of the history of the area, indicating quite a load of research before he set off on his travels.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Linda F. Wood on May 30, 2000
Format: Paperback
Mr. Thurbron's prose is beautiful and informative, and he offers a depth of understanding of this little-known area of the world that is generally not seen in travel logs. This book is particularly helpful in understanding the consequences of Soviet Communism and the Cold War on the environmental and socio-economic issues confronting Central Asia today. This was a real joy to read and has opened my eyes to the importance of this region of the world to modern politics.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 20, 1999
Format: Paperback
A terrific introduction to a part of the world that most people know little about. This is a book that compels you to read on...not because you expect a plot twist or some dangerous turn. No, you read on to find out more about the people and places Mr. Thubron meets during his most amazing journey. Your knowledge of this part of the world grows as you advance page by page, chapter by chapter. It's written in an easy to follow style. The only thing I would have added were more maps to highlight the specific areas we were visiting.
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