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Night Train to Turkistan: Modern Adventures Along China's Ancient Silk Road (Traveler) Paperback – January 13, 1988

3.3 out of 5 stars 15 customer reviews

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The Silk Roads: A New History of the World by Peter Frankopan
Great Tales of History
The Silk Roads--the crossroads of the world, the meeting place of East and West--perhaps more than anything else, have shaped global history over the past two millennia. Learn more | See related books
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Stevens, a freelance journalist, filmmaker and political consultant, retraces explorer and author Peter Fleming's legendary 1935 journey through Chinese Turkistan from capital Beijing to remote, unpopulated Kashgar. Stevens was accompanied by three American friends, including Mark Salzman, whose Iron and Silk records his own extensive travels in China. In this colorful, simple narrative, the difficulties outweigh the pleasures as the foursome continually battles the bureaucratic nightmare of government control in China, where purchasing train tickets requires the combined skills of a rug merchant, diplomat and spy. They ride crowded, unheated buses that move at a snail's pace along rough roads and planes that fly low, nearly skimming the ground. They find that their hotels do not have basic amenities like running water and working toilets. Stevens portrays China and the Chinese in a negative, surely controversial, light ("China was like an army, ugly and inefficient, joyless and numbingly monotonous, with little use for art or literature"). Yet, he is also moved by flashes of individualism and rebellion, and by kindness. An aura of romantic adventure buffers the hardships he describes, linking the author and his literary forefather whose footsteps he followed across China.
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

pap. $7.95. adventure Cold, windswept deserts, rundown hotels, bumpy, crowded buses, and evasive officials were the usual lot of four intrepid Americans intent on retracing the 1935 route of Peter Flaming and Ella Maillart through far western China. Unlike such adventurers as Charlotte Salisbury ( Long March Diary, LJ 2/1/86) who traveled with Chinese government sponsorship, Stevens and his friends ventured on their own. They met a succession of bureaucratic obstacles in the frontier towns of Dunhuang, Turpan, and Kashgar. Stevens's keen observation and wry comments will serve like-minded adventurers well. Elizabeth A. Teo, Moraine Valley Community Coll. Lib., Palos Hills, Ill.
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Series: Traveler
  • Paperback: 237 pages
  • Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Press; 1st edition (January 13, 1988)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0871131900
  • ISBN-13: 978-0871131904
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 5.5 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #768,588 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Stevens provides a humorous recounting of a romp through Western China attempting to follow the trail of 1936 travelers Fleming an Maillart along the ancient Silk Road. Night Train to Turkistan is entertaining for its quirky characters including infuriating bureaucrats, reluctant Chinese interpretor (Mark Salzman, author of Lying Awake and Iron and Silk), a six foot female athlete who draws a crowd of suitors and gawkers everywhere she goes, and proprietors of various roadside establishments.
The four travelers are just outrageous and creative enough to actually make their way from Beijing to Kashgar and back, despite a multitude of bureaucrats that seems hellbent on prohibiting them from doing just that. The book starts out with the quartet delivering skis to a national ski team in a country with no ski areas, in the hopes of obtaining a vaguely official-looking reference letter that might unlock some door somewhere. It goes on from there.
This was a fairly quick read, and, as other reviewers have noted, it's not heavy on anthropological or historical insights. But I don't think the intent of the book was to provide these insights. This is a case where getting there is all the fun. The book is all about the journey, and those who have attempted to journey through bureaucratic developing nations are likely to recognize the types of frustrations and seemingly inexplicable events and policies recounted here. The book is all about crammed unheated buses and trains and low-flying planes and various other conveyances. It's about imperfectly built Russian hotels and incomprehensible bus stations and greasy roadside noodle stands and scheduled group pit stops and increasingly implausible explanations from government workers, desk clerks, and pencil pushers.
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Format: Paperback
People who have read Mark Salzman's "Iron and Silk"will find this book interesting because its author travelled withSalzman on another journey through China. The author's honesty about the horrors of travel through China in mid-1989 is refreshing. Stevens somehow manages to avoid the mindless chipper attitude seen too frequently in travelogues without falling into Paul Theroux style cynicism. Although I enjoyed this light read, I nevertheless finished the book feeling that I had gained little in the way of new insights. Stevens doesn't seem to like China much or to come to any conclusions other than that the Cultural Revolution was bad (hardly a revelation) as are Chinese architecture and manners. Eight years later, this book has the feel of a period piece -- China's capitalist revolution is far more advanced now.
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Format: Paperback
I really enjoyed this book. The author's basic premise is interesting. The four unlikely companions who depart on the journey are outrageous and funny. Especially the description of the Uighur "minorities" was touching. A little more history would have been welcome... But, very readable, enjoyable and funny. Definitely recommended.
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Format: Paperback
A travel memoir from an abrasive guy who convinces three friends to go with him to China in the mid-1980s to re-trace the fabled Silk Road route across the high Chinese desert to India. The friends are David, a fitness nut who looks like a special forces recruit; Mark Saltzman, the acclaimed author of his own memoir of China, Iron And Silk, who is along to translate for them; and Fran, a six-foot tall athlete whose statuesque looks ensure that she is mobbed by amazed, admiring crowds wherever they go.

The Han Chinese especially, and China in general, come off in a very negative light: a backward country filled with lying, slothful officials who despise Westerners. This is no Iron And Silk though I did shoot through it briskly due to its clean-cut writing and unrelenting tension (as they struggle with the nightmarish Chinese bureaucracy that blocks their every step).

There's all sorts of tension in the memoir: building within David, who most cannot stand the pitfalls of bureaucracy; and rising between aggressive Stuart who likes to ask former members of the Red Guard how many grandmothers they slaughtered during the Cultural Revolution, and gentle Mark who seeks a way to translate while saving everyone's face. Stuart comes off as a jerk. The memoir is centered so firmly on him that the others barely come across. I think Fran or Mark would have had way more interesting viewpoints than Stuart does.

Throughout his journey, he enjoys asking probing questions of almost every faltering-English-speaking Chinese he meets: questions that put them on the spot in regards to China's troubled past and current government (neither of which is these individuals' faults).
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Format: Paperback
As one who has visited China many times, I got this book thinking it would both teach me something I did not know about the country and revive memories of my experiences there. Fairly soon into it I became disappointed and persisted only to see if there were at last some redeeming features or even insights. There weren't. The author seems never to have left the US mentally, or Mississippi, perhaps more accurately. The stimulus for his trip was the accounts of Peter Fleming and Ella Maillart (Kini). Their books are brilliantly revealing and beautifully written, unlike the turgid newspaper-inspired prose of Stevens, where each sentence constitutes a paragraph or a thought, and most of the latter trivial. Most annoying is the sense one gets that Stevens never tries to see China and its people from anything but a comparison with his own (perhaps limited) experiences. The narrative follows a kind of "let's look at the natives' quaint ways" approach with little insight into the social and political circumstances in China that lie behind the behavior he describes. You get the feeling that he and his friends really got very little out of their experiences that would broaden or even change their US-centric views. One might hope that the Chinese could at least get the same sense of "otherness" about the author's and his friends' behavior, but most of the locals probably had more nous than the writer and certainly more politically astuteness. They certainly would have had a good laugh at them. One kind of wishes that the author and his friends would have had to face China in the conditions of the thirties, as Fleming did, where a deep understanding and accommodation was far more demanding. They would have left after Beijing probably.
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