________________ CM . . . . Volume XVI Number 10 . . . . November 6, 2009


Adventures on the Ancient Silk Road.

Priscilla Galloway with Dawn Hunter.
Toronto, ON: Annick Press, 2009.
164 pp., pbk. & hc., $14.95 (pbk.), $24.95 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-55451-197-6 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-55451-198-3 (hc.).

Subject Headings:
Silk Road-History-Juvenile literature.
Silk Road-Description and travel-Juvenile literature.
Xuanzang, ca. 596-664-Travel-Asia-Juvenile literature.
Polo, Marco, 1254-1323?-Travel-Asia-Juvenile literature.
Genghis Khan, 1162-1227-Travel-Asia-Juvenile literature.

Grades 5-10 / Ages 10-15.

Review by Val Ken Lem.

**** /4


Genghis Khan had reunited the Mongol clans into a fighting nation. When he died, he was ruler of the biggest land empire the world has ever known, stretching from Russia in the west to much of China in the east. Genghis had used the Silk Road to achieve military supremacy but while doing so, he broke down trade barriers and made the long journeys safer for everyone. He brought new luxury to the previously barren Mongol life, as exotic goods now arrived by the Silk Road: glass from Venice, carved ivory from Africa, mosaics from Constantinople, fresh fruits, spices, and perfumes from India. In the time of the Great Khan and Mongol Empire, the Silk Road flourished.


Even today in our age of globalization and omnipresent technology, the fabled Silk Road conjures exotic images and a sense of adventure. Galloway and Hunter manage to capture the exotic places and customs associated with the famous trade route in biographies of three exceptional historic figures who travelled this series of trade routes that linked the Far East lands of China with the more Western worlds of India, Egypt, and even Europe. Xuanzang, Genghis Khan, and Marco Polo lived centuries apart, yet often encountered similar dangers and hospitality as they travelled over land by horse or camel, through deserts and mountains, and, in the case of Marco Polo, across several seas. Records of their journeys provide important historic information about the various peoples, their customs and lands encountered along the dangerous trade routes.

     Xuanzang was a Chinese Buddhist monk who spent 16 years travelling from China to India and back again from 629-645. His goal was to collect copies of Buddhist scriptures in India, the land where Buddhism originated, and bring them back to China for translation and study. More than once, encounters with bandits almost ended fatally for the monk. A foolish decision to traverse a mountain pass in winter did claim some of his party. He was often assisted by monks who provided shelter and by local leaders who provided armed escorts. When he returned to China, Emperor Taizong welcomed him and provided a skilled editor in the person of the monk Bianchi who helped Xuanzang to write about his travels in a book known as Records of the Western World. Xuanzang was then able to spend almost two decades with a team of monks translating his Buddhist scriptures that were housed in a specially built library, the Wild Goose Pagoda.

     Genghis Khan was born around 1162 to a Mongol clan chief who named him Temujin. Life became very difficult for Temujin, his siblings, and mother following the murder of his father. However, Genghis Khan dramatically dealt with a treacherous older brother, and, by the age of 18, he married his first wife, the daughter of another chief, and his small clan began to grow. He negotiated alliances with other clans, and his reputation as a skilled military leader eventually led to his election as the Great Khan, ruler over all the Mongols who numbered some two million people in 1206. With Genghis Khan's soldiers patrolling the trade routes, trading flourished. The trade routes were also improved for they became important military routes needed to help his armies move quickly. The Khan traversed deserts with his mounted soldiers in order to surprise his enemies, the Chinese of the Jin Dynasty in 1211 and, a few years later, the Shah of Khwarezm. The Mongol Empire at the time of Genghis Khan's death was vast, and the era of peace that his victories allowed lasted more than a century.

     Marco Polo was teenager when he began his journey to China in the spring of 1271 by boat, setting sail from the city-state of Venice with his father and uncle in command. Kublai Khan, a grandson of Genghis Khan, was emperor of all of China, having expanded the empire considerably since the days of his ancestor. Kublia Khan was so taken with Marco Polo that he assigned him with trusted duties that allowed him to explore distant parts of the empire and report back his findings to the ruler. Reluctantly, the Khan allowed the Polos to return to Europe, almost a quarter century after they had begun their journey. Marco Polo's journal focussed on trading customs, but he used them and his memory to dictate his story to a fellow prisoner in a Genoese prison. During his lifetime, his story was popular but few believed his tales.

     Adventures on the Ancient Silk Road is beautifully designed with a lot of colour and numerous illustrations, including appropriate photographs of structures like the Kalyan Minaret in Bukhara (Uzbekistan) that predates Genghis Khan and ancient temples of Samarkand. Modern photographs of animals and objects such as yurts or gers that have changed little over the centuries helps to connect the lives of the ancient travellers with the current world. Other events or sites are illustrated through reproductions from works of art created long ago. Each of the three chapters begins with a map showing the travel route and main points of interest along each subject's journeys.

     The text contains a great deal of information about the three biographees and the worlds in which they lived. This information is elaborated upon in extensive sidebars filled with pertinent facts. For example, the reader learns that Xuanzang is known to many Chinese as a folk hero sometimes called Tripitaka who is assisted by the supernatural Monkey King and two other beings. The story of silk in ancient and modern times occupies a double page spread in the chapter on Genghis Khan. One sidebar in the Polo chapter depicts a Chinese banknote printed on paper and describes the writing surfaces used in Venice at the time: parchment and vellum. Some of the sidebars are used to describe the original source documents that first reported the stories of the three historic figures. The authors make use of recreated dialogue but not to excess. The book includes a useful index and two pages of further readings, including many websites organized into four sections: The Silk Road, Xuanzang, Genghis Khan, and Marco Polo.

Highly Recommended.

Val Ken Lem is the Collections Evaluation and Donations Librarian at Ryerson University in Toronto, ON.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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