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The Red Line (Hardback)

A Railway Journey Through The Cold War

Military > Post-WWII Warfare > Cold War Transport > Trains & Railways

By Christopher Knowles
Imprint: Pen & Sword Transport
Pages: 220
ISBN: 9781473887442
Published: 24th April 2017



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The Red Line is the story of a train journey from London to Hong Kong. It is set in 1981, the year Christopher made the first of twenty-four such journeys as a tour guide, when the Cold War was still very much a fact of life. Although China appeared to be on the brink of significant change, no one could know for certain; Poland was stirring but the prospect of change in the USSR and its other allies seemed remote. This made a journey by train across that landscape particularly fascinating, because by using standard, scheduled services that together created one of the longest possible railway routes, one was necessarily immersed in the various countries in ways that otherwise would have been impossible. Equally fascinating were the reactions of Western travellers to finding themselves incarcerated for weeks on end in the eccentric world behind the Iron Curtain.

In order to give the journey some coherence, the most memorable events over those years have been condensed into a single journey and the most notable personalities, plucked from various times and places, have been thrown together. To emphasise the fact that these events took place in the recent past, and to be able to show how extraordinarily quickly the world has changed in the few intervening years, the story is told by a narrator. Everything that occurs is true, although some circumstances have been slightly adapted for the sake of fluency and names of individuals have been changed.

There are far too many of the 'we went on a trip to wherever and it was jolly exciting, and we got drunk in a small station in Slovenia' type, and I do not hesitate in telling people as gently as possible that just perhaps it should stay in their bottom drawer.

Christopher's effort was different. His manuscript had two great attributes. Firstly, there was a real story to tell, one which was a key part of history since so much has changed since the fall of the Berlin Wall. Secondly, and this is so important, he could write. His descriptions were engaging, his humour was funny (a difficult achievement that!), and his story telling was compelling. I managed to pass his name on to Pen & Sword, who also spotted that he has talent for writing.

So I was delighted the other day to receive a copy of The Red Line: A Railway Journey Through The Cold War.

Rail, October 11 - October 24 2017 by Christian Wolmar

For reasons that are hard to explain, I was recalling this simple yet wise mantra repeatedly while reading “The Red Line” and looking at the excellent period photos with which the book is richly illustrated.

Read the complete review here.

E&T (Engineering and Technology)

It's a fascinating, not-at-all relevant document of travel in a time of change, hope, mistrust and tension.

Wanderlust, June 2017

This book is well-written and engages the reader with its narrative.

NZ Crown Mines

A born storyteller, Knowles’ The Red Line: A Railway Journey Through the Cold War may illuminate, delight and inspire readers young and old to book a ticket into the great unknown themselves.

Read the full review online at TNT Magazine.

TNT Magazine

About Christopher Knowles

When he was nineteen, Christopher Knowles lived in Italy and went on to study Italian. He went on to lead tour groups to Eastern Europe, Russia and China, during the Cold War period. His book, The Red Line, is an account of his fascinating travels in some of the worlds most politically hostile and totalitarian countries, in the last years of the communist period. The account follows the journeys taken and the numerous problems while travelling through the Iron and Bamboo curtain. Christopher Knowles has written a number of travel guides, on city's in Eastern Europe and the Far East. He currently writes for an house travel magazine.

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