Three weeks and only 141 pages in (through the end of Chapter 5) means I'm not enjoying this one, so it's back to the library for now. I haven't read travel writing before (aside from tourist guides like the Lonely Planet, when actually visiting a place, which is not at all the same thing although they are shelved together in the library), and perhaps given my impatience with travelogue fantasies it's unsurprising that I didn't much like this. Thubron spends a lot more time by himself, viewing landscapes or ruins, than I anticipated, and the cast of local characters that he meets turns over very quickly. He has a strange way of writing about people, all of whom come across as mysteriously tragic. He surmises personality from physiognomy and always seems surprised when the people he meets are unemotional about historical events that occurred long before their births. He also has a vague, atmospheric way of writing about history - he is clearly impressed with the long and brutal history of Central Asia, but names and dates and specifics tend to get lost, and all that stuck in my head were the descriptions of torture, which I could have done without.
There are some interesting characters here, and Thubron did have some exposure to the culture and write about it in an interesting way, but it wasn't enough to keep me going through this rather slow-moving and dense narrative.