Colin Thubron is a President Emeritus of the Royal Society of Literature and the author of The Lost Heart of Asia, Shadow of the Silk Road, and, most recently, Night of Fire, a novel. (October 2017)

IN THE REVIEW

A River Runs Through It

Fishermen on the Okhotsk Sea, at the mouth of the Amur River, which separates Russia and China

Black Dragon River: A Journey Down the Amur River at the Borderlands of Empires

by Dominic Ziegler
The Amur is the ninth-longest river in the world, but to Westerners it may be the least known and most remote. It evokes no ancient culture, as the Nile or the Indus does, nor does it occupy a nation’s heart, like the Mississippi. Instead it creates a little-known and potentially …

Where Globalization Began?

Young Cubans crossing the Malecón as tourists drive by in antique American convertibles, Havana, May 2016

Island People: The Caribbean and the World

by Joshua Jelly-Schapiro
In his travel book The Middle Passage (1962), V.S. Naipaul notoriously claimed that “history is built around achievement and creation, and nothing was created in the West Indies.” Ironically the provocation in this statement was a display of typically Trinidadian picong, or goading insult; but the dyspeptic Nobel laureate was …

A Different Vision of History

‘The Dutch delegation of Johan Josua Ketelaar to the Maharana Sangram Singh in Udaipur’; detail of a tempera painting on cotton, 1711

The Silk Roads: A New History of the World

by Peter Frankopan
More than a century ago an obsessive Englishman tried to calculate the geographical heart of Asia, and erected a now-vanished monument where the Greater and Lesser Yenisei rivers meet in southern Siberia. The concept that the world, or its hugest continent, possesses a heart (or a womb or a memory) …

Pamuk: Under the Spell of Istanbul

Orhan Pamuk

A Strangeness in My Mind

by Orhan Pamuk, translated from the Turkish by Ekin Oklap
Uniquely among cities, Istanbul bridges two continents. It lies on the southeast frontier of Europe, while its suburbs expand across the Bosphorus straits into Asiatic Turkey. From a European viewpoint, the city may be the site where Asia begins; from the Turkish hinterland, it is the start of Europe. For …

Mesmerized by Germany

An East German soldier looking through the Berlin Wall, 1990

Roads to Berlin: Detours and Riddles in the Lands and History of Germany

by Cees Nooteboom, translated from the Dutch by Laura Watkinson, with photographs by Simone Sassen
There has been no more potent symbol of division than the Berlin Wall. It not only divided ideologies, but seemed to separate two incompatible eras of history. To pass through Checkpoint Charlie or Friedrichstrasse station into East Berlin was to travel back half a century, and when the Wall began …

NYR DAILY

Lost in Arabia

The 1761-1767 doomed Danish expedition to the Middle East was little known for many years. In Felix Arabia, an account of the expedition recently published in a new edition, Thorkild Hansen sometimes doubts the expedition’s influence. But since, its reputation has burgeoned. Despite the losses and decay suffered by its findings, the maps, studies in zoology and botany, and other discoveries were a gift to the future. In 2011, the 250th anniversary of the expedition’s departure was celebrated with pride.

When the Ruins Were New

Francis Bedford: The Colossi on the Plains of Thebes, March 17, 1862

In February 1862 the eldest son of Queen Victoria, the Prince of Wales and future King Edward VII, embarked on a four-and-a-half month journey through the Middle East. Among the party was the photographer Francis Bedford, who in over 190 prints produced one of the earliest photographic records of the region. The torpor of the declining Ottoman empire is palpable in his rare group photographs—unreliable Ottoman mercenaries or ragged Albanian water-carriers—as it is in the empty-looking villages of Hebron or Bethany. Even the streets of Cairo appear deserted. And there are no Jews.

NYR CALENDAR