A captivating portrait of a remote region of the world that many readers may know nothing about.

THE AMUR RIVER

BETWEEN RUSSIA AND CHINA

The celebrated British travel writer takes us on a fascinating journey along the Amur River.

In his latest adventure, octogenarian Thubron planned to follow the river “as it flows through south-east Siberia then meets China, then breaks for the Pacific.” For more than 1,000 of its 2,600 miles (which includes its source river, the Argun), the Amur forms the border between the Russian Far East and northeastern China. The Chinese call it Heilongjiang, which means “Black Dragon River, for the dragon’s imperial grandeur.” One of his first guides, a Mongolian horseman, warned him about the dangerous, “almost impassable” landscape. Shortly after starting out, the author suffered an injury, which forced him to question his body’s ability to keep up—yet, as always, he persevered. Standing out as a foreigner in a region that rarely hosts travelers, Thubron became the object of covert attention. Often, this curiosity resulted only in extended gazes and innocent questions, but he also endured numerous police interrogations and a nagging fear that he was being followed. Accompanied by various guides, the author made his way through this vast, unforgiving territory by car, boat, and train, evoking with beautiful detail and compassion its rich history and culture. 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. Many villagers lamented the loss of their native cultures and offered conflicting views about the ownership of the region. The Chinese spoke of Russian land grabs and the profound unease of Chinese artifacts lying inside Russian borders, while Mongolians and Russians claimed that the Chinese were stripping the land and infiltrating every aspect of business. 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.

Pub Date: Sept. 21, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-06-309968-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 18, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2021

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A rousing, suspenseful adventure tale.

MADHOUSE AT THE END OF THE EARTH

THE BELGICA'S JOURNEY INTO THE DARK ANTARCTIC NIGHT

A harrowing expedition to Antarctica, recounted by Departures senior features editor Sancton, who has reported from every continent on the planet.

On Aug. 16, 1897, the steam whaler Belgica set off from Belgium with young  Adrien de Gerlache as commandant. Thus begins Sancton’s riveting history of exploration, ingenuity, and survival. The commandant’s inexperienced, often unruly crew, half non-Belgian, included scientists, a rookie engineer, and first mate Roald Amundsen, who would later become a celebrated polar explorer. After loading a half ton of explosive tonite, the ship set sail with 23 crew members and two cats. In Rio de Janeiro, they were joined by Dr. Frederick Cook, a young, shameless huckster who had accompanied Robert Peary as a surgeon and ethnologist on an expedition to northern Greenland. In Punta Arenas, four seamen were removed for insubordination, and rats snuck onboard. In Tierra del Fuego, the ship ran aground for a while. Sancton evokes a calm anxiety as he chronicles the ship’s journey south. On Jan. 19, 1898, near the South Shetland Islands, the crew spotted the first icebergs. Rough waves swept someone overboard. Days later, they saw Antarctica in the distance. Glory was “finally within reach.” The author describes the discovery and naming of new lands and the work of the scientists gathering specimens. The ship continued through a perilous, ice-littered sea, as the commandant was anxious to reach a record-setting latitude. On March 6, the Belgica became icebound. The crew did everything they could to prepare for a dark, below-freezing winter, but they were wracked with despair, suffering headaches, insomnia, dizziness, and later, madness—all vividly capture by Sancton. The sun returned on July 22, and by March 1899, they were able to escape the ice. With a cast of intriguing characters and drama galore, this history reads like fiction and will thrill fans of Endurance and In the Kingdom of Ice.

A rousing, suspenseful adventure tale.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-984824-33-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 30, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2021

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Unsentimental nature writing that sheds as much light on humans as on eels.

THE BOOK OF EELS

OUR ENDURING FASCINATION WITH THE MOST MYSTERIOUS CREATURE IN THE NATURAL WORLD

An account of the mysterious life of eels that also serves as a meditation on consciousness, faith, time, light and darkness, and life and death.

In addition to an intriguing natural history, Swedish journalist Svensson includes a highly personal account of his relationship with his father. The author alternates eel-focused chapters with those about his father, a man obsessed with fishing for this elusive creature. “I can’t recall us ever talking about anything other than eels and how to best catch them, down there by the stream,” he writes. “I can’t remember us speaking at all….Because we were in…a place whose nature was best enjoyed in silence.” Throughout, Svensson, whose beat is not biology but art and culture, fills his account with people: Aristotle, who thought eels emerged live from mud, “like a slithering, enigmatic miracle”; Freud, who as a teenage biologist spent months in Trieste, Italy, peering through a microscope searching vainly for eel testes; Johannes Schmidt, who for two decades tracked thousands of eels, looking for their breeding grounds. After recounting the details of the eel life cycle, the author turns to the eel in literature—e.g., in the Bible, Rachel Carson’s Under the Sea Wind, and Günter Grass’ The Tin Drum—and history. He notes that the Puritans would likely not have survived without eels, and he explores Sweden’s “eel coast” (what it once was and how it has changed), how eel fishing became embroiled in the Northern Irish conflict, and the importance of eel fishing to the Basque separatist movement. The apparent return to life of a dead eel leads Svensson to a consideration of faith and the inherent message of miracles. He warns that if we are to save this fascinating creature from extinction, we must continue to study it. His book is a highly readable place to begin learning.

Unsentimental nature writing that sheds as much light on humans as on eels.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-296881-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: March 1, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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