Shadow of the Silk Road records a journey along the greatest land route on earth. Out of the heart of China into the mountains of Central Asia, across northern Afghanistan and the plains of Iran and into Kurdish Turkey, Colin Thubron covers some seven thousand miles in eight months. Making his way by local bus, truck, car, donkey cart and camel, he travels from the tomb of the Yellow Emperor, the mythic progenitor of the Chinese people, to the ancient port of Antiochin perhaps the most difficult and ambitious journey he has undertaken in forty years of travel.
The Silk Road is a huge network of arteries splitting and converging across the breadth of Asia. To travel it is to trace the passage not only of trade and armies but also of ideas, religions and inventions. But alongside this rich and astonishing past, Shadow of the Silk Road is also about Asia today: a continent of upheaval.
One of the trademarks of Colin Thubron's travel writing is the beauty of his prose; another is his gift for talking to people and getting them to talk to him. Shadow of the Silk Road encounters Islamic countries in many forms. It is about changes in China, transformed since the Cultural Revolution. It is about false nationalisms and the world's discontented margins, where the true boundaries are not political borders but the frontiers of tribe, ethnicity, language and religion. It is a magnificent and important account of an ancient world in modern ferment.
In the dawn the land is empty. A causeway stretches across the lake on a bridge of silvery granite, and beyond it, pale on its reflection, a temple shines. The light falls pure and still. The noises of the town have faded away, and the silence intensifies the voidthe artificial lake, the temple, the bridgelike the shapes for a ceremony which has been forgotten.
As I climb the triple terrace to the shrine, a dark mountain bulks alongside, dense to the skyline with ancient trees. My feet sound frail on the steps. The new stone and the old trees make a soft confusion in the mind. Somewhere in the forest above me, among the thousand-year-old cypresses, lies the tomb of the Yellow Emperor, the mythic ancestor of the Chinese people.
A few pilgrims are wandering in the temple courtyard, and vendors under yellow awnings are offering yellow roses. It is quiet and thick with shadows. Giant cypresses have invaded the compound and now stand, ...
Thubron's words tell a thousand pictures, as he conjures in the reader's mind the people and places of today and yesterdays long past. To compare Thubron's writing to most travel books is to compare the beautifully crafted treasures inside the museum to the tawdry baubles being hawked on the museum steps.
(Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).
Full Review (1338 words).
The Silk Road (map)
starts at the western gate of
old Changan in
Xian which, in
the Tang dynasty (618-907 AD),
was the greatest city in the
world. The Xian municipality
commissioned a red sandstone
sculpture of twice life-size
camels in commemoration, but the
site is now engulfed by a
supermarket - so the camels have
been relocated to a traffic
Nobody in ancient times spoke of the Silk Road; the term was coined by 19th century German geographer, Friedrich von Richthofen,...
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