Thubron’s elegant, elegiac and poignant book recounts his journey from the river’s source in the Mongolian mountains to Nikolaevsk ... Thubron writes beautifully ... The author draws on a rich supporting cast of characters whose voices sing from the pages ... As the Amur River winds its way slowly to its meeting with the sea, Thubron’s journey draws to a close with no fanfare, coming to an end with the image of an old man in waders, fishing for pike. It serves as a cipher for the loneliness that a mighty river carries with it — and the faint hope of something to look forward to.
Thubron may now be an octogenarian, but his new book, The Amur River: Between Russia and China, shows him still at the peak of his powers ... The book that he has produced at the end of this ordeal is no less remarkable than the journey itself: a miraculous late-style masterpiece, the equal of any of his earlier works, which will cement his reputation as one of our greatest prose writers in any genre. There is barely a page that does not contain gorgeous descriptive passages, superb dialogue and pitch-perfect commentary founded on deep learning, lightly worn. But The Amur River is not just beautifully written: it is also a work of great importance ... The Amur River is not just a literary triumph in itself, it is also a demonstration of the continued power of great travel writing. In an age when attention spans are growing ever shorter, when articles are becoming more etiolated, the travel book remains one of the few venues to write with some nuance and complexity about a place or an alien culture ... As The Amur River so beautifully demonstrates, good travel writing allows you to use encounters with individuals to suggest complex contradictions within societies and imagine the otherwise unimaginable ... There is still no substitute for travel writing of this quality. One can only hope that this epic journey is not Thubron’s last.
With ruminative gracefulness, [Thubron] describes his eastward ... No detail escapes Mr. Thubron, whether botanical, atmospheric or homicidal...But his explorer’s eye fastens just as swiftly on the ugliness of the Amur’s human past ... Mr. Thubron is unsparing in his account of a massacre in the Russian town of Blagoveshchensk in 1900 ... While more at home in the company of Russians, whose language he speaks, Mr. Thubron is elegantly neutral on these demographic questions. Where he does show a bias—bordering on rapture—is in his love for the river. As he basks in the vast emptiness of the lands that are its cradle, you can’t help thinking that the world of the Amur is the perfect country for old men.
Although an admirer of [Thubron's] works, I embarked on this one harbouring the dabbler’s secret fear of being awed but not entertained ... My concern was unfounded. Thubron has produced a fascinating read packed with curiosities and incident, and, travelling in his 80th year, sheds a little of his customary emotional reticence, offering glimpses of the rare bird that is himself.
The scholar Edward Said would famously argue that travel writers’ creation of a backward 'Oriental' other was crucial not only to the inflated self-image of the West, but also to the actual maintenance of empire ... If the weight of this legacy has spurred critical self-awareness among some more recent practitioners in the genre, Colin Thubron does not seem to be among them ... It is in the past, though, that Thubron seems most comfortable ... At its best, The Amur River evokes a sense of history advancing as just such a swarm, erecting and toppling empires, goading hopes and trampling dreams ... But this vision rarely comes into focus. Mainly, it hovers over the text as an ambient sense of loss. Meanwhile, Thubron’s interest in contemporary political dynamics remains hazy. ... More inexplicably, Thubron ignores the one factor that is altering the landscapes through which he travels more than any other. He explicitly mentions climate change just once ... Thubron never says why he wanted to follow the Amur, nor what, if anything, he hoped to learn. It must have seemed important — Thubron was nearly 80 when he set out — but one begins to suspect it was just pride that motivated him, or force of habit. This silence robs his account of urgency. His wanderings feel aimless ... The role he was able to comfortably play for so many years, the confident scout of a society certain of its power, is no longer viable. You can feel the loss in the sag of his narrative.
Thubron undertook to explore the entire length [of the Amur], and it’s an extraordinary journey, albeit one with very little sunlight of any kind along the way ... The Amur might be an immense via dolorosa, but The Amur River is never monotonous. Almost every town along the river is grim, but Thubron gives us many distinct shades of grimness. People are characterized crisply, with great sympathy, except in the most intractably unsympathetic cases. Landscapes are always evoked with great precision and economy—Thubron never goes in for vague atmospherics. He writes brilliantly about the region’s wildlife and folklore, and there are moments of humour to leaven the atmosphere ... Historical episodes enrich the travelogue at perfectly calibrated intervals, and he ranges widely, all the way back to the ancient nomadic people who might have been the ancestors of the Huns ... Inevitably, though, The Amur River ends in melancholy ... One can only marvel that he completed his journey, and be thankful that this marvellous book came out of it.
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.
The Amur River has made me think much more deeply about the specific power of writing about travel ... why stick with the time-honored method of travel through words? For this reason, I think: when you are in the hands of a writer as deft as Thubron, you’re not moving through a visual simulation. You’re experiencing the world through a mind, a mind rendering the fullness of perception through the expansive powers of prose ... Thubron’s mind has the advantage of a rich hoard of experience ... Thubron has always been a melancholic writer, but the reader senses that his approaching mortality, which echoes throughout these pages, has deepened his sensitivity to human frailty ... Though Thubron sometimes confesses to impatience with the people he meets along the way, more often he shows a deep sense of empathy. He immerses himself in the languages and cultures of those he visits, at pains to avoid the visitor’s easy judgments; he is attuned to the tensions beneath the surface of their lives ... Thubron is an author under no illusions; he knows what is coming for us all. But we should be grateful that he has not lost his faith in the power of great writing to bring us within a perceptive observer’s rich and multilayered experience of the world.
Thubron evokes in this breathtaking account the beauty and harshness of the 1,100-mile-long Amur River ... He writes sensitively and cogently about the life along the river’s shores ... 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.
The celebrated British travel writer takes us on a fascinating journey along the Amur River ... 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 ... 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.