July Books 18) The Lost Heart of Asia, by Colin Thubron
This is a travelogue of a journey through the five Central Asian former Soviet republics in the early 1990s, shortly after the collapse of the USSR. It had been lingering on my unread books shelf for a while, but I realised that in fact I had read it shortly after it came out. In those days I was interested then in the legacy of Tamerlane and Ulugh Beg in Samarkand, which Thubron indeed describes in so far as it was there to be found. These days I am more interested in the politics, and things have moved on quite a bit in the region: the Tajik civil war, just starting when Thubron was there, has now been over for more than a decade; meanwhile we have had a revolution in Kyrgyzstan, increasing repression in Uzbekistan, the bizarre rule and death of Turkmenbashi, and most of all the War on Terror in the immediate neighbourhood. So the book now feels very out of date. There are a lot of drunken feasts, departing Russians, sweeping generalisations about the facial appearance of people from particular ethnic groups, which I began to find tiresome very quickly. I believe that Thubron did a follow-up volume to this, retracing his earlier route, quite recently but won't rush to pick it up (unless anyone strongly recommends it to me in comments).