I was in need of adventure, and thanks to one of those very mysterious book promotions Amazon Italy sometimes does (why? How? Based on what? It’s a mystery) I got myself a stack of books by the Long Riders Guild, livening up my growing collection of books about the Silk Road and environs. I am going through them in the evening, when I am too tired to write and the countryside is dark, cold and unforgiving.
If I can’t travel, my mind can.
Last night I finished Alistair Carr’s slim The Singing Bowl – Journey through Inner Asia (2006), the chronicle of the author’s visit to Mongolia and the Silk Road in the early 2000s.
It is a crisp, concise story of an adventure -a travel started because the author woke up one morning “with Mongolia in his head.” An apt way to describe the lure of far-off lands, the urge that animated travelers for centuries.
Along his way, budget backpacker Carr meets a gallery of characters that seem to live in a sort of twilight world – travelers and nomads, but also the people that study them and those that try to regulate and keep an eye on them. We follow Carr’s peregrinations on trains and buses, on old jeeps and by plane, and the first thing that disappears, early in the book, is the certainty we associate with travel today: timetables become wobbly, and the weather counts more than travel arrangements when it is time to go.
It is a fine book, The Singing Bowl, that spices with history a very current view of those fabled lands – Mongolia, Xinjian…
Carr is pointed in his observations, but is never cynical, and we come to share his bafflement, his distrust of the local cuisine, his occasional worries.
And there’s dinosaurs in this book, which of course for me is a bonus – digging dinos in the Gobi is one of my impossible dreams; I wrote a short story about a bone hunter in the Gobi, and it was my first sale with Pro Se Press; it is called Queen of the Dead Lizards (yes, this is shameless self-promotion).
Because that’s what fiction is for, to help us give shapes to our dreams.
And it would be good to just up and go as Alistair Carr did. But if we can’t, we can still read his very enjoyable book.