Jim Reviews: Lands of Lost Borders: A Journey on the Silk Road by Kate Harris

I have a love/hate relationship with biographies and memoirs. On the one hand they are the natural adjunct to reading history. My problem is (and I fully acknowledge this an unfair and possibly self-defeating) I only really care about the parts of the subjects life that occurred during the events that made them worthy of having a biography or memoir in the first place. I don’t really care about their childhood or any of the other things that get put in as “filler.” People always say to me “but those are the things that made the person who they are”. Yes but if they are doing a good job writing it, you’ll figure out the “kind of person they are” from the main narrative.

This diatribe is kind of the long way of getting to how I picked up Land of Lost Borders. The short answer is, Silk Road. I’ll read anything about the Silk Road. This particular book is about Harris and her friends cycling the sections of the Silk Road that are still roads over the course of several years. The book opens with her and a friend sneaking into Tibet and ridding to Lasa. The parts where they are on the Silk Road are fantastic. I think her bike level view of the world gives the setting a granuler look that travelers by plane or car wouldn’t be able to describe. She also does a great job of conveying the extreme exertion she is under crossing a very unforgiving landscape. Heat, cold, mountains, unimproved roads and saddle sores are omnipresent.

My only quibble, and I’ll be the first to admit that it is a very personal quibble, I didn’t enjoy the parts of her life that weren’t about the Silk Road. This is no doubt because I was there for the silk road so everything else was just getting in the way of that. Her life beyond the silk road is certainly interesting. She wanted to be an astronaut on the mission to Mars so spend several months training in the desert in Utah.  So definitely pick this one up if you love travel writing or biography.