Colin Thubron: The Shadow of the Silk Road

Frankopan’s The Silk Roads was the first book I finished reading this year. By the time a dozen friends sent me messages that Joanna Lumley’s Silk Road Adventure on Netflix reminded them of me, the Silk Route had already taken over my neural pathways. Haha! When I was finally able to watch it, I noticed that at the end of the show, Joanna Lumley thanks Peter Frankopan and Colin Thubron. I did not know who the latter was. She led me to this book.

While Frankopan gives the reader a sweeping aerial view, Thubron walks down the roads and creates a more intimate experience. The two would be beautiful to read in succession — Frankopan for the historical details, Thubron for making history felt through intimacy. Aside from his own poetic voice, his writing becomes the voice of places and people who would have otherwise been destined to remain absent or silent in our consciousness.

“Sometimes a journey arises out of hope and instinct, the heady conviction, as your finger travels along the map: Yes, here and here… and here. These are the nerve-ends of the world… A hundred reasons clamor for your going. You go to touch on human identities, to people an empty map. You have a notion that this is the world’s heart.

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 the pattern of 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.”

I did not want this book to end, and yet, even the best books do, but only to give us a deeper yearning to continue the journey beyond the pages.

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