Saturday, November 25, 2017
Book Review - "The Great Walk of China: Travels on Foot from Shanghai to Tibet" by Graham Earnshaw
Travel books have never been a favorite of mine, but I had been drawn to this one by a recent 5-star Goodreads review, plus the fact that the author happens to be my publisher.
What sets this travelogue apart from others is that its focus is on the author's interactions with the people he met throughout his journey on foot (this is possible as the author speaks fluent Mandarin and reads and writes Chinese), which naturally add a spontaneous and human dimension to the places he visited.
The author makes it clear at the start that this was not a contiguous journey, but rather a series of walks that spanned six years. He could only afford to devote a few days every month to this walking project, and each time he made a fresh start at the point where he had last stopped. The direction he took was always to the west. At the end of the journey, he covered the provinces of Zhejiang, Anhui, Hubei and Sichuan with a total distance of roughly 2,000 kilometers. Almost all the villages, towns and countryside he passed through were off the beaten track - I admit that the place names are all unfamiliar to me.
Through his random and incessant conversations with people from all walks of life he met on the road, readers get a good glimpse of how the locals go about their daily lives and of their thoughts about the past, present and future. It is apparent that the author not only has a deep sense of empathy for the lower echelons of Chinese society, but is genuinely concerned about the future of the kids who have the misfortune of being denied proper education.
The bright spots of the book are descriptions of otherworldly beautiful scenery of some remote and untouched countryside stretches which, if not consciously preserved, will be trampled and wiped out by blind development.
I love this book for its humbling and inspirational qualities, for which I gave 5 stars.