“Yet to follow the Silk Road is to follow a ghost. It flows through the heart of Asia, but it has officially vanished, leaving behind it the pattern of its restlessness: counterfeit borders, unmapped peoples. The road forks and wanders wherever you are. It is not a single way, but many: a web of choices. Mine stretches more than seven thousand miles, and is occasionally dangerous.”
In Shadow of the Silk Road Colin Thubron takes the reader on a journey beginning in China, and ending up at the shores of the Mediterranean Sea in Turkey. In a mix of modern day encounters, history lessons and beautiful prose, this one of those lovely books that invites you to travel and learn along the way.
Three things stood out to me as I read this book. First, as Thubron heads deeper into the remote areas of China, you realize that China as a nation is divided due to the indigenous peoples in the different regions. They are not always treated as equals, and poverty is a way of life. There is serious poverty there, not the so-called poorness that political spin-doctors claim exists in the United States. This leads to the second thing that stood out: the reclaiming of faith by the people. At one point in the book, a woman tells Thubron:
“God is what my people have. They are very poor. I am not surprised we have turned back to God. I think that is happening, even among people in the cities. Our life is too hard. And the Party offers us nothing beyond.”
The last impression I received from Thubron’s travels is a sense of hope. Despite the fact that there is much misinformation and propaganda spread about the West, people in this part of the world still believe in our humanity. In Iran, everyone seems to have access to satellite dishes, the internet and cellphones. Our world is becoming smaller and we are learning more about each other every day. It will be more difficult to mislead people, and this sharing, like in the days of the well-traveled silk road, could lead to a kind of peace through the intermingling of our lives and cultures.
3 1/2 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2006