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Monday, December 3, 2007

Book Review: Frontiers of Heaven - Stanley Stewart

Read of the Armchair Traveler's Reading Challenge.

This book follows the author’s journey westward from Shanghai along the old Silk Road. There are many interesting glimpses of Chinese and other minority cultures along the way.

I’d not realized that the Chinese had long considered a trip along the Silk Road a form of exile. Xinjiang, the province at the furthest western reaches of China has long been settled by Islamic tribesman, and is only recently being settled in any great numbers by Han Chinese, as China seeks to maintain a dominant role in the province. It was long a place of exile, continuing even to this past century, during the Cultural Revolution.

There are any number of interesting vignettes throughout the journey, from the boat trip through the Three Gorges, a fling the author has with a woman in Xi’an, his extremely atmospheric train rides into the hinterlands, visits with the various nomadic tribes in the furthest west, and a final bus trip in a Pakistani bus over the Karakoram Pass into Pakistan.

It’s somewhat of a hard book to describe beyond a description of the places that the author travels. It’s a very atmospheric story, traveling lightly along the Silk Road, briefly touching the places he passed through. I find it hard to even decide if I was entirely pleased with the book. There are so many hints of lovely, hidden details, and at the end of the book, I find myself wanting more.

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