East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Russian river, four letters

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9781594203671OK, full disclosure: I knew about the river Amur because of crosswords puzzles.

Russian river, four letters

Maybe, had I known it is also called Black Dragon River, I would have checked out the Amur river before.

Luckily, I was offered an ARC 1 of Dominic Ziegler’s Black Dragon River.
The tag-line A journey down the Amur River, at the borderland of empires sums up nicely the contents of this thick volume that Pengiun Books will be releasing later this year.

What’s so hot about the Amur?
Well, apart from being the seventh longest river on this planet, the Amur happens to mark the border between the former Soviet Union and China.
And before that, it marked the border between the Russian Empire (you know, the one with the Czar) and the Chinese Empire.
With a little extra – Mongolia happens to lay along the banks of the Amur.


Fascinated by the geographical and historical meaning of the Amur, Ziegler decided to follow and explore the river – and by relating his exploration, he takes us into a journey into the strange role that the river had – and still has – in the imagination of two nations.
The Amur was by turn a boundary, a promised land rich with mineral resources, a frontier that was something of Russia’s Far West (only it was east, not west), then a place for exiling dissidents (as in “sent to Siberia”), then a disputed border…
From Mongol raiders to modern-day nomads, the book introduces us to a variety of human types and a wealth of information.
The Amur river – no matter how you call it, no matter where you place its sources2 – it’s always been a borderline, the sort of liminal place that creates opportunities, and attracts changes, or agents of change.
It’s the kind of place where lots of things just happen.

Ziegler’s book is fun and informative, filled with facts and characters, and it’s a great read on a little known stretch of the world. Proof that there may not be many blank spaces on the map, but there’s still a lot of leeway for adventure, mystery, and just plain weirdness.
And as usual, history is much more strange, and fun, than we are normally taught in school.

  1. that’s Advance Reader Copy, in case you’re wondering. 
  2. there’s been ample debate on the subject through the years. 

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

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