Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Journeys on the Silk Road by Morgan & Walters

Journeys on the Silk Road: A desert explorer, Buddha's secret library, and the unearthing of the world's oldest printed book. Morgan and Walters. Lyons Press. September 2012. 336 pp. hardback. ISBN #: 9780762782970.

Here is the account about Aurel Stein, the archaeologist, and his dog, Dash, and their astounding journey across what is known as the Silk Road, a journey traversing China, Tibet, India and more lands.  Funded by the British government, Stein's job was to look for valuable pieces that would add to Great Britain's museum collection; but Stein's interests lay in a different direction.  So he found no difficulty finding enough "gems," figuratively speaking to make his funders happy.  But the rest of the story is magical and adventurous, and Morgan & Walters leave no stone unturned (literally and figuratively) in describing the preparation, journey, and eventual findings that riveted Stein.  Indeed those discoveries are still touching the lives of millions of readers, explorers, adventurers, and tourists, professional and lay included.

The authors describe how Stein's first journeys to Central Asia led him to wonder where the first Buddhist writings could be found and how that religion was transformed as it began in India and evolved into its state in China.  As the journey across deserts and mountains was so vigorous and life-threatening, the authors describe how selective Stein was in choosing his aides.  Sometimes the decisions proved pivotal and once almost disastrous.  The descriptions are so vivid the reader can feel the storms, heat, brutal cold and other forces of nature such as avalanches that defy the imagination but which were survived by Stein and his team.

Stein first is entranced by the artifacts inside Lahore Museum, ancient Buddhist statues, amazingly with decidedly Western features. Then the murder of the Scottish adventurer, Andrew Dalgleish, makes Stein realize what treasures existed so that others would murder anyone seeking to find those treasures.  Soon the competition of others and the need for funding fueled his desire to get moving on this treasure hunt to the mysterious settlement of Loulan that another adventurer, Sven Hedin, had discovered in 1899. The Buddhist images and wooden documents, as well as a form of early paper kindled Stein's fascination and goals.

The book also describes the writings of Xuanzang who taught Buddhism and wrote about these teachings on scrolls, all based on his journeys to India.  This was the gold mine hidden in a cave which Stein was seeking and which he eventually found.

It is impossible to cover all the aspects of this topic for which Stein dedicated his life.  Every chapter of this momentous book is an adventure story that will rivet any reader, whether or not he or she has any interest in this subject. Indeed it reads like adventure fiction as well as historical fiction.  The scholarly reader will be as satisfied as well as the lay reader is with the depth and diverse approaches to this comprehensive subject.  Morgan & Walters have created a classic work of archaeological study that will be relished inside and outside the academic and archaeological world.  Superbly crafted, mesmerizing, and informative! A must read for those who love great books!

No comments:

Post a Comment