A journalist’s account of his travels along the Amur, a spectacular but largely uncelebrated river on the border between Russia and China.
The Amur is the ninth largest river in the world. Yet for Economist Asia editor Ziegler, it remained “the longest river [he] had never heard of.” As he was to learn, part of the river’s mystery stemmed from the numerous name changes it had undergone over time. The Manchus once called it Sahaliyan Ula, or the Black River, while modern Russians call it the Amure, a name they derived from an old Daurian word (Amur) that meant “good peace.” In this book, Ziegler chronicles his travels along the length of the Amur from its Mongolian source, the Onon River, to its endpoint 2,826 miles west in the Strait of Tartary. His journey, which he made by horse, Jeep, and train, took him through difficult yet unforgettable landscapes and brought him into contact with a host of intriguing individuals. However, his narrative is far more concerned with setting forth the complex history of both the river and the two nations it separates than with his own impressions of places and people. Ziegler begins his historical account with the story of Genghis Khan, who learned to fish in the Onon. His violence and aggression not only led to the creation of the Mongolian Empire, but also permanently marked that region afterward. More than seven centuries later, Russian czars obsessed with the idea that Russian greatness depended on expanding into China fought and killed their way east while focusing on the Amur as their path to a strategic port in the Pacific. Ziegler is exceptionally knowledgeable about the Amur region and its relationship to the current tensions that define the China-Russia relationship, but more often than not, the historical and political information he offers overwhelms the travel narrative.
Rich in history but short on personal reflection, this book is more for Asian history buffs than fans of travel literature.