A few months ago, I Skyped with my friend Sue Devenish-Meares from Australia- who thankfully went back to her home country Australia right before the 2016 elections! She was about to go on a trip through the Central Asian countries, which in itself is so adventurous, and so in line with who she is. in fact, all the photos in this post are taken by her, and she is in one of them!
She told me about a book she was enjoying titled “The Silk Roads- A New History of the World” by Peter Frankopan. The title was intriguing, but what got me even more interested is Sue’s comment that this book enriched our understanding of history by adding in what has been omitted in most Western narratives- the rich civilizations and contributions of Eastern cultures. Well, that did it- I had to get the book, and got it at my library within a day or two. It is a big book – almost 500 pages, but it is written in such a way that chunks it into exciting sections with each section setting up the next one, and almost like a thriller, you cannot wait for what the next one holds! Each of its 26 chapters has the words “the road” in it, making the reader feel as if they are traveling through time on a road perched right above history as it unfolded.
The book teaches us a lot about human history – how similar and different all races are, how the root evils of humanity continue to play out over and over again, and how noble humans existed in all cultures, races, faiths, regions of the world. While we think globalization is a new phenomenon, the Silk Road was certainly connected cultures across the globe already. For an Easterner raised in the West like myself, it is wonderful to see the acknowledgement of the rich cultural heritage of Middle East and Asia. Civilizations go through cycles and it would behoove us all to remember that all civilizations contributed to society, perhaps in different eras and in different ways. Individually, we should learn to be humble, to learn and not get arrogant ever. After all, who is to know how long the cycles of progress and destruction take for each civilization or culture? All that matters is that change is a constant, and nothing stands still. What is created is destroyed, and on it goes.
Most of all given that we are living in a time of a great many divides, which we distress about so much, Frankopan’s accounts of divisions within all the faiths, all countries, all races and tribes and so on are quite reassuring, as if to remind us that this is a law of human society which we cannot escape. All we can pray is that we are on the “safe” side when things turn for the worse, and that the combination of technological wonder and superiority combined with human amnesia and callousness does not interrupt the amazing human story on this planet.