Rating: 4 Stars
In ‘Shadow of the Silk Road’, Colin Thubron retraces the route of the historic Silk Road, starting from China and wending his way through Tibet, the fractured republics of Central Asia, through Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and Turkey.
Thubron’s prose is elegant and evocative in its unsentimental, yet compassionate telling of lands and people rendered remote by geography and cultural divides.
What I found particularly interesting was his exploration of the historic intermingling of various ethnicities, and the consequent racial anomalies that exist to this day, especially apparent in China and Central Asia.
The ruthless ambitions of early empire-builders are echoed in the brutal regimes of modern-day despots. There is little to rejoice in as we hear the grim accounts of lives shattered by war, ancient bigotries kept fervently alive, and dreams crushed underfoot by religious fanaticism, or authoritarian suppression.
Nevertheless, the book is oddly luminous. All along this silken swathe, despite the differences of customs and cultures, the common humanity of these impoverished people shines evident – be it in their aspirations for a better life, for freedom from persecution, for peace, for dignity; or in their hospitality to a wanderer who experiences first hand the kindness of strangers.
An eye-opener for those (like me) who, misguided by the media, would write off this Eurasian melting-pot as nothing more than a seething cauldron of religious fundamentalism.
This fascinating and erudite travelogue will delight alike lovers of history and archaeology, as well as those who merely revel in fine writing.