Stanley Stewart
Awesomeness 5

Is China really that strange, or do we sometimes just want things to be a certain way?

Travel writer Stanley Stewart starts in Shanghai – and travels overland through China, all the way to Xinjiang and into Pakistan. He writes about what he sees along the ancient Silk Roads, talks to locals, checks out historical relics – and he even has..

Summary 5.0 goodish

Stanley Stewart

Author: Stanley Stewart
Title: Frontiers of Heaven
Time: 1994
Destination: China, Pakistan
Length: a few weeks
Type: overland
Rating: 5/10

Looking for the weird?

[Please note: I have been reading a German translation.]

The story: Travel writer SS starts in Shanghai – and travels overland through China, all the way to Xinjiang and into Pakistan. He writes about what he sees along the ancient Silk Roads, talks to locals, checks out historical relics – and he even has a short-lived love affair.

that good romantic stuff

I liked that last part best. Sometimes I wonder: why don’t more travel writers dare to write about this part of the adventure? Is it not important?

Anyway, I found SS’s style of writing pretty enjoyable. Standing in a long tradition of Anglo-Saxon travel writers, he can be very funny. But it does him good not to rely on humor as much as Peter Fleming and Nigel Barley do. In other words: he sounds a bit more serious, which is a good thing. So why is this one only a 5/10 then?

good writing, but…

Well, you can argue with me on this one, but I found some of SS’s stories a bit… weird. I don’t know about his level of Chinese, or his knowledge of Chinese culture, but many of the things he writes seem a bit too „juicy“ for my taste – as if SS had been searching for oddities instead of embracing the ordinary.

Stanley Stewart’s weird anecdotes

The guy on the train who brags about how he basically „purchased“ a woman from her father without any intents of marrying her. The chief judge in Wuwei who wears his shirt tied up above his exposed belly and hauls around the bloody head of a cow on his bicycle (while being on the way to a court case). The discussion with a sailor about Tang poetry (in English?)…

Things like these were a bit weird for me to read. I think maybe China is really not as strange and peculiar as many people would like to have it be? Don’t get me wrong: this is not a bad book at all, and especially the part about the love affair is enjoyable to read.

But I have a bad feeling about those stories.

5/10.

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