A Carpet Ride to Khiva : Seven Years on the Silk Road Paperback
The Silk Road conjures images of the exotic and the unknown.
Most travellers simply pass along it. Brit Chris Alexander chose to live there. Ostensibly writing a guidebook, Alexander found life at the heart of the glittering madrassahs, mosques and minarets of the walled city of Khiva - a remote desert oasis in Uzbekistan - immensely alluring, and stayed.
Immersing himself in the language and rich cultural traditions Alexander discovers a world torn between Marx and Mohammed - a place where veils and vodka, pork and polygamy freely mingle - against a backdrop of forgotten carpet designs, crumbling but magnificent Islamic architecture and scenes drawn straight from "The Arabian Nights".
Accompanied by a large green parrot, a ginger cat and his adoptive Uzbek family, Alexander recounts his efforts to rediscover the lost art of traditional weaving and dyeing, and the process establishing a self-sufficient carpet workshop, employing local women and disabled people to train as apprentices. "A Carpet Ride to Khiva" sees Alexander being stripped naked at a former Soviet youth camp, crawling through silkworm droppings in an attempt to record their life-cycle, holed up in the British Museum discovering carpet designs dormant for half a millennia, tackling a carpet-thieving mayor, distinguishing natural dyes from sacks of opium in Northern Afghanistan, bluffing his way through an impromptu version of "My Heart Will Go On" for national Uzbek TV and seeking sanctuary as an anti-Western riot consumed the Kabul carpet bazaar.
It is an unforgettable true travel story of a journey to the heart of the unknown and the unexpected friendship one man found there.
- Format: Paperback
- Pages: 320 pages, 8 page colour photo section
- Publisher: Icon Books Ltd
- Publication Date: 01/07/2010
- Category: Travel writing
- ISBN: 9781848311497
- Hardback from £11.35
Showing 1 - 2 of 2 reviews.
Review by buddhapenguin
Alexander writes with a clear, knowledgeable voice, effectively mixing history of the Silk Trade and commerce of the Silk Road with an autobiography of his 7 years in Khiva and Afganistan assisting locals in launching and running a silk and wool weaving operation employing those in need. Alexander includes a nice mix of reflection and opinion on Uzbekistan culture, including the many contradictions that exist side by side including that between religion, secularism and mysticism; corruption and giving; female domination by men and female domination by females; honor and open lying; modernity vs antiquity; and the strikingly different definition of moral behavior of men vs that of women. The author clearly embedded himself within the culture of Uzbekistan and lived as others in Khiva did, learning and practicing the language and customs (to a point, though seemingly not becoming chauvinistic, greedy, or obsessed with prostitutes as many of the Uzbekistan men were). His characterizations of other people appear to be without censorship, and therefore are more trustworthy. People in this novel are flawed in many ways, which makes for a much more interesting read. Parts of the book carry a good deal of tension as well, especially following the events of September 11, 2001. A very quick read that will immerse you in the strange and colorful world of Central Asia.
Review by quaintlittlehead
I received this book in a roundabout way via LibraryThing's Early Reviewers program, not because I requested it, but because I requested another book and the publisher generously sent two, with this being the free extra. Therefore, it is not likely a book I ever would have picked up on my own. However, I am so glad it found its way onto my shelves. Alexander's story of life as an NGO worker in Uzbekistan is a poignant portrayal of an all-too-often forgotten land. Uzbekistan itself would be fascinating just by virtue of its juxtaposition of post-Soviet culture at the gateway to the Arab world, but once you add in the time period that Alexander spent there, it becomes all the more eye-opening. Seeing how nonchalantly the author crossed the border into Afghanistan to purchase dyes on his first visit there, for example, challenged my stereotypes of this part of the world and the attitudes and daily lives of the people there. Hard-core anthropologists will likely critique Alexander's view of his world through a British, western lens, but I am not a hard-core anthropologist, and I appreciate the reality that the author at times feels completely at home in his new world, yet also questions the morality of the patriarchal society surrounding him. Though it seems highly likely based on his writing that he is a Christian, he does not ever come out and explicitly say this, and it seems that he applied the same reserve in discussing his religion with his colleagues in Uzbekistan, trying to wend his way out of their probing questions without being offensive. It is clear that he has a passion for the people he lives and works among, and even if you take some umbrage at the author's purpose for being in the country, you have to applaud his exploration of traditional rug-making and his thoroughness in exposing the artistry and history of this craft. This book masterfully mixes personal narrative with history, biology, and art lessons in such a way that it's hard to put down. I couldn't believe when I finished it and flipped to the back that this was Alexander's first book. I hope it is not his last.