Thoughts on Colin Falconer’s Silk Road

Silk Road - Colin Falconer

WARNING: SPOILERS

Modern Sensibilities: One of the challenges of writing historical fiction is balancing the values of the reader with the worldview of characters from a distant time/place. The writer must provide the modern audience with someone to identify with even when the context is wholly other.

Colin Falconer’s Silk Road spans the swath of geography from the Holy Land to Central Asia in 1260 AD. Writing from this distance in time and culture presents a greater than usual challenge to bridge the gap between story context and the reader.

Falconer does this by creating a female character, Khutelun, with the skills, spunk and father’s indulgence to have the freedom to live as a man – allowing for adventures and encouraging her natural leadership. This is believable because we know that Mongol women did have more clout than their western sisters at the time.

Falconer also creates a main character, Josseran Sarrazini, a Templar knight, who begins to question his Christian heritage. And, William, a Dominican friar, who represents every despicable characteristic of religious fanatics. This juxtaposition of an open-minded man who finally casts off all faith and the Evil EthnocentricCleric who never changes, seems crafted to appeal to the modern reader’s freedom of thought and to encourage the gleeful derision of all things terrible about organized religion.

I have two problems:

1) The drastic final action of the Templar doesn’t ring true. Of course, as a believer, I would say this. But I also assert so as an intelligent reader. In 1260 AD, the act of completely turning one’s back on faith, and doing what he finally does, would have been terrifying. (And I won’t even tell you what he finally does as it would be an extreme spoiler.)

Of course, it is the writer’s freedom to do as he wishes, but it felt like a wink at the politically correct modern world.

2) Meanwhile, William, the Despicable Cleric, never learns, never grows. I admit there were moments when Falconer tried hard to humanize him; make us think William might improve, if only a little. Was that an attempt to forestall criticism of caricature? Or provide an honest picture of personal enigma? In the end, this character goes nowhere.

Again, it’s the writer’s freedom to do as he wishes, but it was tiresome. Okay, we get it – Evil Monk. Been Done To Death.

More Nit-Picking:

The book is slow at times if you want all action. But if you are reading Silk Road because of an interest in the region, you’ll enjoy the descriptions even if you find yourself skimming through some of it as I did.

And, the editing is appalling. How did this happen?

On the Other Hand:

Despite my complaints, Colin Falconer has a new fan. He is a wonderful storyteller and I will definitely read more of his work. I crave well researched high adventure stories in places beyond the standard fare. This is the kind of book I love. This is the kind of book I want to write. I will forgive all for more of this. Falconer sweeps you along on roads far beyond the beaten path and immerses you into another world.

The good news is: Colin Falconer has written 40+ books. I will look for others set in times/places that appeal to me. Lot’s to choose from. It will be interesting to compare the story and editing qualities of subsequent reads with my Silk Road experience.

In the meantime, I hope Mr. Falconer will slow down enough to do some serious quality control on the editing. Maybe his production schedule is coming at too great a sacrifice.

Recommended: For action & adventure set in far off lands

Amazon reviews here.

Goodreads Reviews here.

Why I don’t write starred reviews here.

Historical Fiction Set in Central Asia

Dancing Girls Rehearsing

Dancing Girls Rehearsing – Photo Copyright Lausanne Davis Carpenter

I thought I would start some regional reading lists for our ready reference.

Since Central Asia has long been my personal fascination I will start there.

Here’s what I have found thus far:

Historical Fiction set in Central Asia by Asians:

Chingiz Aitmatov’s name rises to the top of any search.  Aitmatov wrote in both Russian and Kirghiz. Many of his works are out of print but several are available on Amazon. Prices range from $0.01-$400.00.

Wikipedia lists English translations of Aitmatov’s work as follows:

Short Novels, Progress Publishers (1964).

Farewell Gul’sary, Hodder & Stoughton Ltd (June 29, 1970). ISBN 978-0-340-12864-0

White Steamship, Hodder & Stoughton Ltd (August 14, 1972). ISBN 978-0-340-15996-5 (Soviet Era Kyrgyzstan)

The White Ship, Crown Publishing Group; 1st Edition (November 1972). ISBN 978-0-517-50074-3

Tales of the Mountains and the Steppes, Firebird Pubns; Second Printing edition (June 1973). ISBN 978-0-8285-0937-4 (Soviet Era)

Ascent of Mount Fuji, Noonday Press (June 1975). ISBN 978-0-374-51215-6 (Soviet Era)

Cranes Fly Early, Imported Pubn (June 1983). ISBN 978-0-8285-2639-5

The Day Lasts More Than a Hundred Years, Indiana University Press (February 1, 1988). ISBN 978-0-253-20482-0 (Soviet Era Kazakhstan)

The Place of the Skull, Grove Pr; 1st edition (March 1989). ISBN 978-0-8021-1000-8

The Place of the Skull: Novel, International Academy of Sciences, Industry, Education & Arts (USA) (2000). ISBN 978-5-7261-0062-3

Time to Speak, International Publishers (May 1989). ISBN 978-0-7178-0669-0 The time to speak out (Library of Russian and Soviet literary journalism), Progress Publishers (1988). ISBN 978-5-01-000495-8 (Genre unclear)

Mother Earth and Other Stories, Faber and Faber (January 8, 1990). ISBN 978-0-571-15237-7 (Soviet Era Kyrgyzstan)

Jamila, Telegram Books (January 1, 2008). ISBN 978-1-84659-032-0 (World War II,Caucasus)

Other Authors:

The Blue Sky: (translation in print from Der blaue Himmel, 1994)- Galsin Tschinag. (1940s Communist Mongolia).

Tschinag was from the Altai mountains of western Mongolia and wrote in German.

Wikapedia lists his works translated into English, all items listed appear to be poetry except for the novel Blue Sky.

Wolf Totem – Rong Jiang (pseudomnym for Lu Jiamin)  A bestseller in China, the story takes place in Mongolia – multiple periods.

The Railway – Set in 1900-1980 Uzbekistan by Uzbek writer: Hamid Ismailov

Of course Khaled Hosseini’s three novels set in Afghanistan (Kite Runner, A Thousand Splendid Suns and, most recently, And the Mountains Echoed) are not to be missed even though they are set in the current milieu.

Central Asian Historical Fiction by Non-Central Asians:

I Rode a Horse of Milk White Jade – Diane Wilson (YA) (14th Century China)

The Conqueror Series (Five book saga of Ghengis Khan/Kublai Khan – 12th Century) – Conn Iggulden

Kim –  Rudyard Kipling. Set during the Great Game as British India and Russia vied for control of Central Asia.

While compiling this list I discovered the Open Central Asia Book Forum & Literature Festival 2013 is taking place right now in London.

The web site states: “This year’s festival, which will take place in London, UK, to awaken the interest of the English reader to read the Central Asian literature translated into English, will also attract the public’s attention to the development of the publishing industry, as well as the publishers themselves to the potential of the Central Asian literature in the world market. The event will be attended by as many recognized in his home country of authors, including Hamid Ismailov and Casati Akamatova and British authors with works devoted to Central Asia.”

Unfortunately, I can’t find anywhere on the site which provides descriptions of works translated to English so I am not able to glean potential reading lists.

If anyone out there knows where to find this information, or happens to be at the festival, please let me know if there is any historical fiction we should know about.

Following that lead by googling Silk Road Media takes you to silkpress.com which mentions their recent publication of Christopher Marlowe’s play Tamburlaine the Great into Uzbek – the language of the protagonist. Who knew? That’s definitely going on my TBR list – the English edition, of course. My Uzbek is rusty.

Please let me know if you have anything to add to this list!