Mirror to Damascus by Colin Thubron

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Mirror to Damascus by Colin Thubron

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Category: Travel
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Sean Barrs
Reviewed by Sean Barrs
Summary: In walking the streets of Damascus, Thubron acquaints himself with the city's people, history and architecture in an effort to capture the heart of the city.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 369 Date: December 2008
Publisher: Vintage
ISBN: 978-0099532293

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Damascus today is a monument to her past, to all the people and civilisations that helped shape her. In this enthusiastic piece of travel writing, Colin Thubron tells the tale of a city that has seen empires rise and fall, conquerors come and go and has lasted for over two thousand years. It's rich in impressive history and this book is rich in impressive detail.

Originally published in 1967, this edition has a new forward by the author (penned fifty years later) in which he considers how far the city has changed since he originally wrote it. He walks the streets of the city once more and experiences the notions he puts forward in the writing. Nothing remains the same for long, and in just half a century the city is almost unrecognisable to one who found a second home behind her walls. The mood has changed, the people are less trusting of outsiders and the face of the city has been scared with conflict.

Thubron knows such change is nothing new, though he did not expect to see it so acutely within his own lifetime. The modern essence of Damascus is haunted by whispers of her history, of the changes she has witnessed over the centuries. The architecture of the city reflects it and is a constant reminder of what came before. Even now the remnants of Greek and Roman structures can be seen along with the much later changes Saladin wrought on the city after the crusades. The Ottomans left their mark too. The city as a structure is a hybridised place, a metropolis that reflects the turmoil it has experienced as it embraced new culture time and time again.

Damascus is described using vivid imagery. Thubron in his youth was clearly enamoured by it; he viewed it as a place of beauty and even described his own book as a work of love. It is hard not to be convinced by his perceptions of the city, a city he praised for her culture, tradition and ability to renew herself over the ages. Consequently, the recent horrors of Syria's civil war do not detract from the work. Although the city has been wounded, it can once again prosper as her history has shown. Despite numerous occupations and conflicts, Damascus has always recovered: history dictates that she shall once again.

The greatest strength of the writing resides in the way it relates the facts about Damascus' culture, history and architecture with Turbon's perceptions, the sights, the colours and the geography of what he is witnessing. Indeed, like all great travel writers Turbon has the ability to walk around the city and relate the present to the past. And not only that, he went beyond traveling and actually lived in Damascus for a time to gain a fuller picture of her essence. He did not just travel to Damascus as a sightseer, but he experienced the city and took everything in.

If you like travel books that place the history of a city at the forefront of the writing then it's worth checking out Delhi: Adventures in a Megacity by Sam Miller.

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Buy Mirror to Damascus by Colin Thubron at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Mirror to Damascus by Colin Thubron at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy Mirror to Damascus by Colin Thubron at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Mirror to Damascus by Colin Thubron at Amazon.com.


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