The best books to discover the Silk Road

The Books I Picked & Why

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

By Caroline Eden

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

Why 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.


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The Silk Roads: A New History of the World

By Peter Frankopan

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

Why 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!    


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The Devils' Dance

By Hamid Ismailov

Book cover of The Devils' Dance

Why 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.  


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A New Diwan

By Andrew Staniland

Book cover of A New Diwan

Why 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.


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The Dead Wander in the Desert

By Rollan Seisenbayev, John Farndon, Olga Nakston

Book cover of The Dead Wander in the Desert

Why 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. 


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