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Review: Journeys on the Silk Road by Joyce Morgan & Conrad Walters

[ 4 ] October 26, 2012 |

Reviewed by Mary Lu McFall

Journeys on the Silk Road by two Australian authors, Joyce Morgan and Conrad Walters, is an engrossing book about the discovery of Buddha’s secret library by an intrepid explorer, Aurel Stein. This non-fiction account gives references for the facts in the book and includes the writings of Stein. There is a select bibliography with extensive reading for those who wish to further pursue the topics introduced in the book. There is also an index, and a postscript which gives details about the lives and deaths of nine of the people who supported and/or were friends of Stein.

Aurel Stein was a Hungarian Jew who was at home in the deserts and far corners of the world where few travelers dared to intrude. The Silk Road was a trade route followed by caravans of traders through dangerous terrain rife with bandits and sandstorms; starvation and thirst were a constant threat. Stein seemed to be impervious to those dangers, indeed he faced his adventures with strength and courage and a determined will to succeed. His main interest was finding antiquities of past cultures, especially the written word. He followed obscure clues and his instincts and discovered at the end of the Silk Road the Cave of the Thousand Buddhas, guarded by Abbott Wang.

The Abbott was persuaded not only to show Stein the treasure in one cave, but allowed Stein to pack up crates of the scrolls, murals, and other treasures. One of those treasures was the Diamond Sutra, the world’s oldest printed book. Before Stein’s 1908 discovery little was known about Buddhism, its origins, or its teachings. At the time of his journeys, governments were not interested in protecting their own history or even recognized the importance of the works of monks or obscure artists. Stein and other explorers (French, German, Russian, even an American said to be the model for Indiana Jones) were all interested in antiquities in the area and raced along the Silk Road with the right to plunder and remove whatever treasure they found.

The authors cover Stein’s history in depth, taking us along the road, reading the letters he wrote to friends and supporters, and sharing the friendship of his companions along the way. Details of the Taklamakan Desert and the Gobi Desert and its inhabitants who have long since abandoned their villages and homes take us to another time and place. The tricky negotiations for supplies, food, directions, hints and help are related in a steady stream of information which astonishes the reader.

The treasure of the scrolls that Abbott Wang guards and then allows Stein to remove are sent to the British Museum to be divided at a later date with the government of India who helped finance Stein. The details of the influence of the Buddhist writings, scrolls, murals and other artistic expressions of the spiritual teachings are told in the subsequent chapters. Many Twentieth century writers, philosophers and students of the spiritual writings of the Buddhists have been influenced by the Diamond Sutra.

Protected by being moved yet again during World War I and II to underground facilities in Wales and other safe havens in Britain, the scrolls survived to be exhibited and shared with the rest of the world. Unfortunately, they are being exhibited today. The influence of the writings cannot be over-stated, and plenty of information on these writings can be found on the web.

Journeys on the Silk Road is a book for anyone interested in exploring other cultures, and a must read for those interested in the writings of Buddha and the origins of his spiritual wisdom.

Rating: ★★★★★ 

Mary Lu is the author of Passports to Change Revisited 2012, now on Kindle. She lives in Newnan, Georgia and does research and customer service at an independent bookstore in Peachtree City. She is the author of another two novels which will soon be available on Kindle.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by FSB Media. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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Category: Historical, Memoirs, Nonfiction

Comments (4)

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  1. 3
    Colleen Turner says:

    Wow, thus does sound fascinating. Aurel Stein sounds like an incredibly brave, unique man to do the exploring that he did without fear. I am curious, however, as to why the abbot would so easily give up the treasures he guarded. Did they discuss this in the book?

    Thank you for this review! I don’t know much about this topic so I would love to know more.

    • 3.1
      Mary Lu McFall says:

      Stein bought the treasures; it’s always about money isn’t it? The value of the scrolls wasn’t truly appreciated until much later.

  2. 2

    I podcast Richard Fidler’s interview with these authors. Their book is a ripping adventure yarn about an Indiana Jones-type explorer.

  3. 1
    Carol Wong says:

    I would love to read this. My son has been to those caves and I have always been fascinated with anything to do with the Silk Road. Here is a video that will show you some of the caves:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ntWOFW9eVM0&feature=youtube_gdata

    This video is rather long but I couldn’t resist adding what the Silk Road looked like in 2009.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_KqTAMnCSfk&feature=gv

    Carol Wong

    Carol Wong

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