Shadow of the Silk Road records Colin Thubron’s journey along the greatest land route on earth. He passes through China, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Iran and Turkey and describes the history, cultures and people along the way. The Silk Road was described as 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. Shadow of the Silk Road encounters Islamic countries in many forms. Overall it explains changes in China that transformed since the Cultural Revolution. Throughout this book, Thubron discovers and identifies the transformation of history that transpired. He begins to reminisce and
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You go to encounter the protean shapes of faith. You go because you are still young and crave excitement, the crunch of your boots in the dust; you go because you are old and need to understand something before it's too late. You go to see what will happen." In other words, Thubron went to "follow a ghost", the Silk Road, "a road that has officially vanished," "not a single way, but many: a web of choices. Mine stretches more than seven thousand miles, and is occasionally dangerous." (p. 2)
It was said that 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. One of Thubron's greatest experience on his journey was his encounters with different people. Thubron traveled from the tomb of the Yellow Emperor, the mythic progenitor of the Chinese people, to the ancient port of Antioch in perhaps the most difficult and ambitious journey he has undertaken in forty years of travel, making his way by local bus, truck, car, donkey cart and camel. Out of the heart of China into the mountains of Central Asia, across northern Afghanistan and the plains of Iran and into Kurdish Turkey, Thubron covers some seven thousand miles in eight months.
Thubron's objective was to travel the ancient Silk Road, from Xian in central China to Antioch on the shore of the Mediterranean, and no marauding virus would prevent his journey. However, along his great journal, Thubron