The best books to discover the Silk Road

Why am I passionate about this?

When I first visited Central Asia in 2008, little did I know that it would become the focus of my life and work. I now advise the World Bank and national governments on economic development, with a particular focus on tourism, and I’m the Chairman of the Royal Society for Asian Affairs. I am Uzbekistan’s Ambassador for Tourism, a co-founder of the Silk Road Literary Festival, and I’ve written and updated guidebooks to Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and the Silk Road.


I wrote...

Uzbekistan

By Sophie Ibbotson,

Book cover of Uzbekistan

What is my book about?

Bradt Travel Guides’ Uzbekistan is the best-selling English-language guidebook to Uzbekistan: The Heart of the Silk Road. Now in its 3rd edition, this guide covers not only the country’s rich history and cultural heritage, but also all you need to know about the fast-developing tourism sector. 

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Red Sands: Reportage and Recipes Through Central Asia, from Hinterland to Heartland

Sophie Ibbotson Why did I love this book?

Food is without doubt one of the most insightful windows into any culture. The food we eat is a mirror of who we are and where we come from, a strong trigger for memory, and cooking together or sharing a meal creates an unusually strong bond between people who were previously strangers. In Red Sands, Caroline Eden combines reportage, photography, and recipes to build a rich picture of Central Asia, introducing people and places foreigners would never normally encounter. Her stories are diverse, evocative, and thought-provoking, but they have one thing in common: they make you hungry for adventure and to taste the many ingredients and dishes she describes.

By Caroline Eden,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Red Sands as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winner of the Andre Simon Food Book Award 2020

"Caroline Eden is an extraordinarily creative and gifted writer. Red Sands captures the sights, tastes and feel of Central Asia so well that when reading this book I was sometimes convinced I was there in person. A wonderful book from start to finish." Peter Frankopan, author of The Silk Roads\

"Caroline Eden, whose book Black Sea was showered with awards, is on the road again, this time travelling through the heart of Asia. It's not your usual cookbook, it's more a travel book with recipes, the recipes acting as postcards which…


Book cover of The Silk Roads: A New History of the World

Sophie Ibbotson Why did I love this book?

I, like many Brits, studied woefully little non-European history at school. Peter Frankopan’s Silk Roads is a revelation because it re-centres our understanding of global history, shifting the focus from Europe to Eurasia. By discussing the empires, people, trade, and ideas of the Silk Roads — and it is significant that he refers to these overland routes in the plural — Peter makes us reevaluate which events truly changed the course of history, and better appreciate why things are as they are in the world today. This book is available in illustrated and children’s editions, as well as in the original version, and I have all of them: browsing the picture book is a particular pleasure!    

By Peter Frankopan,

Why should I read it?

8 authors picked The Silk Roads as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The No. 1 Sunday Times and international bestseller - a major reassessment of world history in light of the economic and political renaissance in the re-emerging east For centuries, fame and fortune was to be found in the west - in the New World of the Americas. Today, it is the east which calls out to those in search of adventure and riches. The region stretching from eastern Europe and sweeping right across Central Asia deep into China and India, is taking centre stage in international politics, commerce and culture - and is shaping the modern world. This region, the…


Book cover of The Devils' Dance

Sophie Ibbotson Why did I love this book?

Tragically little Central Asian literature has been translated into English: Hamid Ismailov’s books are notable exceptions. The Devils’ Dance won the 2019 EBRD Literature Prize, and it was the first time an Uzbek writer was awarded a major international prize. It is the desire to see more writers like Hamid be able to bring their books to global audiences that prompted me to co-found the Silk Road Literary Festival.  

By Hamid Ismailov,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Devils' Dance as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?


On New Years' Eve 1938, the writer Abdulla Qodiriy is taken from his home by the Soviet secret police and thrown into a Tashkent prison. There, to distract himself from the physical and psychological torment of beatings and mindless interrogations, he attempts to mentally reconstruct the novel he was writing at the time of his arrest based on the tragic life of the Uzbek poet-queen Oyhon, married to three khans in succession, and living as Abdulla now does, with the threat of execution hanging over her. As he gets to know his cellmates, Abdulla discovers that the Great Game of…


Book cover of A New Diwan

Sophie Ibbotson Why did I love this book?

Alisher Navoiy is regarded as the father of the Uzbek language: he was the first person to use Chagatai (the forerunner of modern Uzbek) as a literary language, and he’s Uzbekistan’s national poet. English romantic poet Andrew Staniland, who has translated many of Navoiy’s poems, wrote A New Diwan after his first visit to Uzbekistan. It’s a collection of 84 short poems written in long couplets, inspired by Navoi’s original writing and by the wonders of the Silk Road cities.

By Andrew Staniland,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A New Diwan as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Andrew Staniland's "A New Diwan (h/t Alisher Navoiy)" is a sequence of 84 short poems, written in long, stepped couplets and inspired by the fifteenth century poet, as well as by Uzbekistan's Silk Road cities, its literature and landscapes. It is a contemplative, non-narrative sequence, to be read a few poems at a time.


Book cover of The Dead Wander in the Desert

Sophie Ibbotson Why did I love this book?

The shrinking of the Aral Sea is arguably the greatest manmade environmental disaster of the 20th century. Kazakh writer Rollan Seisenbayev uses the catastrophe as the backdrop for his novel, exploring the impact on local people through the eyes of a fisherman and his son who are confronted not only with the vanishing sea but as a result also the disappearance of their livelihood and future. The Dead Wander in the Desert was long-listed for the PEN Translation Prize and deserves to be much more widely read. 

By Rollan Seisenbayev, John Farndon (translator), Olga Nakston (translator)

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Dead Wander in the Desert as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Longlisted for the PEN Translation Prize.

From Kazakhstan's most celebrated author comes his powerful and timely English-language debut about a fisherman's struggle to save the Aral Sea, and its way of life, from man-made ecological disaster.

Unfolding on the vast grasslands of the steppes of Kazakhstan before its independence from the USSR, this haunting novel limns the struggles of the world through the eyes of Nasyr, a simple fisherman and village elder, and his resolute son, Kakharman. Both father and son confront the terrible future that is coming to the poisoned Aral Sea.

Once the fourth-largest lake on earth, it…


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Kanazawa

By David Joiner,

Book cover of Kanazawa

David Joiner Author Of Kanazawa

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

My book recommendations reflect an abiding passion for Japanese literature, which has unquestionably influenced my own writing. My latest literary interest involves Japanese poetry—I’ve recently started a project that combines haiku and prose narration to describe my experiences as a part-time resident in a 1300-year-old Japanese hot spring town that Bashō helped make famous in The Narrow Road to the Deep North. But as a writer, my main focus remains novels. In late 2023 the second in a planned series of novels set in Ishikawa prefecture will be published. I currently live in Kanazawa, but have also been lucky to call Sapporo, Akita, Tokyo, and Fukui home at different times.

David's book list on Japanese settings not named Tokyo or Kyoto

What is my book about?

Emmitt’s plans collapse when his wife, Mirai, suddenly backs out of purchasing their dream home. Disappointed, he’s surprised to discover her subtle pursuit of a life and career in Tokyo.

In his search for a meaningful life in Japan, and after quitting his job, he finds himself helping his mother-in-law translate Kanazawa’s most famous author, Izumi Kyoka, into English. He becomes drawn into the mysterious death of a friend of Mirai’s parents, leading him and his father-in-law to climb the mountain where the man died. There, he learns the somber truth and discovers what the future holds for him and his wife.

Packed with subtle literary allusion and closely observed nuance, Kanazawa reflects the mood of Japanese fiction in a fresh, modern incarnation.

Kanazawa

By David Joiner,

What is this book about?

In Kanazawa, the first literary novel in English to be set in this storied Japanese city, Emmitt's future plans collapse when his wife, Mirai, suddenly backs out of negotiations to purchase their dream home. Disappointed, he's surprised to discover Mirai's subtle pursuit of a life and career in Tokyo, a city he dislikes.

Harmony is further disrupted when Emmitt's search for a more meaningful life in Japan leads him to quit an unsatisfying job at a local university. In the fallout, he finds himself helping his mother-in-law translate Kanazawa's most famous author, Izumi Kyoka, into English.

While continually resisting Mirai's…


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