Book Review: Night Train to Turkistan, Adventures along China’s ancient silk road, by Stuart Stevens

Another book club selection, that is, until our aging men's book club had a little schedule reset and this one became an "optional" selection. I had read it when the host's original picks were posted and am glad that I did. It's an interesting, but sort of methodical daily-journal sort of book as the protagonist and his two companions rode the proverbial "train to nowhere." As the breadth and width of China transitioned into the (little known to most Americans) minority non-Han ethnic vastness of Central Asia, the experiences became more unusual and the choices of what route to take and the method of actually taking that route were more and more tenuous. The theme of the book might be "Why would anyone take a trip such as this, at that time, to those places," however that is way above my pay grade.

This is not an easy book to locate and obtain, and my copy, a somewhat weathered hardcover book published in 1988, was in fairly good shape and protected against most threats by a thick plastic sheath by the Isle of Wight County Library in the UK, (and at a discount from its twelve UK Pound original price (plus a hunk of international postage). It is a pleasure to hold in my hands. The spelling of various peoples and places is a bit different from current American usage, with "Uighur" for the ethnic group we now call Uyghurs. From Wikipedia: "The Uyghurs, alternatively spelled Uighurs, Uygurs or Uigurs, are a Turkic ethnic group originating from and culturally affiliated with the general region of Central and East Asia. The Uyghurs are recognized as native to the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in Northwest China." There, you have it.

Descriptions of bus terminals and travel are gritty and vivid. In addition, at remote stops, our intrepid travelers flagged down large semi-trailers and rode with the drivers. One interesting factoid, and I think this still is the case, is that China has only one time zone, that is "Beijing time," so if you are in the far western stretches of this vast country, mid-to-late morning on the clock might be before the sun rises at your location. The arid climate in vast portions of western China is starkly described, with historical camel routes of the Silk Road vividly described. Our writing hosts took a plane ride back to Beijing on an early CAAC domestic flight-quite an interesting experience as well.

This little book is an adventurous read, just like its story within.

3 Responses

  1. JK James George
    From Anon-1: Congratulations on being able to slog through the book and then report on it. To me, the most interesting part of your narrative was the description of the book itself and where it came from . . . 8< {
  2. JK James George
    From Anon-2: Sounds like an interesting read. BTW you told us twice about the Uighurs:>) (Note ... correct. Sorry about some sloppy writing and some errors. Corrected the area you mention as well as some others. Jim)
  3. JK James George
    From Anon-3: China is such a fascinating place. Wish I could go there someday… not likely that I would ever return.

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