©2006 Colin Thubron; (P)2007 Isis Publishing Ltd.
Sericulturalist and horticulturalist, mad scientist and earth oven baker.
I have been an independant scholar of all things "Silk Road" for the last 23 years of my life. This book tells a little less of what the Silk road was, and more of what it is and what it means to us, through a modern lense.
Thubron begins in China and ends in what was one of the ancient lynchpins of western civilization, Antioch. He takes 8 months to travel his chosen route (the Silk Road was really a series of many trade routes from as far east as Korea and Japan, and as far west as Venice.) and encounters greed, war, povery, and what some might call "terrible beauty". He revisits places he has been before, to find them forever changed, and this seems to change him as well. You can feel the wanderlust draining out of him as he goes. Aside from a near-bout with sepsis from a neglected dental problem, he emerges alive and realtively well, a much older man than can be measured by the date on his birth certificate.
The only thing I could have done without was his imaginary companion, the "Sogdian Trader", who haunts his sleepless nights. Thubron is a good enough writer to have done better with this part of the narrative.
Anyone interested in this part of the world would enjoy this book. Thubron has done the dangerous heavy lifting for us, and we can simply close our eyes and experience the journey.
This book is a wonderful blend of history -- much of which was new to me, though I have read some on this area before -- poignant vignettes of people met along the way, and poetic landscape descriptions that convey the feeling of being there more than a visual picture. The thought of the possibility of the descendants of Cassius' Roman legions in China is captivating ... The hopes, dreams and, sometimes, prejudices of people so far away touched me deeply and makes me even more angry at the actions of governments that keep us from knowing and understanding one another better. The narrator did a very good job, though some of the pronunciations did sound a bit peculiar -- not sure if it is a difference in that of British English or fault in the narrator, but it was only occasionally distracting. Loved the book and will no doubt return to it again and again. The author was/is a fan of Freya Stark -- if you've never read her you should. I know the recordings of her books exist as I've listened on cassette. I hope Audible will make them available someday (soon).
His unfamiliarity with certain pronunciations extends to Taoism (pronounced "daoism") and bodhisattva, which is most assuredly NOT pronounced "bodhitsattva." Where the extra T comes from is anyone's guess! A most interesting book nonetheless.
I found this book to be deep in the history of the regions as well as informative of currents of thinking of now. Highly engaging.
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