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.