Shadow of the Silk Road

October 4, 2006 (Wednesday) / 5:00 pm6:30 pm

Rainey Auditorium, Penn Museum, 3260 South Street

Shadow of the Silk Road

Colin Thubron

Travel Writer

“My travel books spring from curiosity about worlds my generation has found threatening: China, Russia, Islam (and perhaps from a desire to humanize and understand them).” Mr. Thubron describes the journey he took along the ancient trade route from China through Central Asia, Afghanistan, and Iran to the Mediterranean, which led to his newest book, Shadow of the Silk Road. Don’t miss this celebration of the Silk Road's complex history and reflection on what it means to travel this storied trade route today.

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 travels from the Tomb of the Yellow Emperor (the mythic progenitor of the Chinese people) to the ancient Mediterranean port of Antioch, going by local bus, truck, car, donkey-cart or camel. He covers 7,000 miles in eight months – in perhaps the most difficult and ambitious journey he has undertaken on forty years on 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. Yet alongside this rich and astonishing past, Shadow of the Silk Road is also about Asia today—a continent in 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.