Just gonna hop into it.
So last week I set a focus on reading The Silk Roads by Peter Frankopan, and then The Dragon’s Legacy and The Forbidden City by Deborah Wolf. I’ve gotten through The Silk Roads, and I’ll mostly be talking about that this week. I’m also about a third of the way through The Dragon’s Legacy, and I’m hoping to be well into The Forbidden City next week, but some upcoming writing stuff may prevent that (more on that in a bit).
Ultimately, The Silk Roads disappointed me. I don’t think that the text itself is a bad one, or worse an unnecessary one, but frankly? It doesn’t match its marketing. The book claims to offer a non-Eurocentric history of the world and does a plausible job for the first third or so, and for the last third.
But man, that middle bit. For the period from 1492 until 1945, Frankopan focuses almost exclusively on events spurred on and decided by nations (becoming empires) in Europe. His stated goal, from the introduction forwards, is to describe and show how the West and the East have historically met and interacted in important ways in the region loosely definable as Persia (modern day Iran, Irag, and Afghanistan, but extended a bit further), but for nearly five hundred years his narrative focuses on the impact of imported luxury trade and growth in Italy, then Spain and Portugal, then finally Britain, and continental Europe at large. Persia re-enters the narrative only once Britain begins prospecting there for oil.
I was disappointed. I was hoping for a robust history of some portions of the world I know little about, and instead I got a bunch of European history I was already familiar with, to one degree or another. Frankopan starts with this lovely little anecdote about a map that hung from the wall of his childhood bedroom, which made him wonder about the (modern-day) Middle East, and eventually become a historian. But, this book doesn’t seem like it sprung from love of the region east of the Mediterranean; it seems written from a loathing for European and American imperialism.
And yet more damningly, I find his book a somewhat persuasive argument for imperialistic policies. It’s clear that he’s against nations conquering and profiting from other nations (as I assume most people would be, if asked), but each and every time a nation forces itself upon another, the conquering nation profits immensely. Every conquest ends with an “enlightened” age, a renaissance; the Crusades lead to the rise of Italian city-states, the Islamic conquest leads to a period of high art and scholarship, Spain’s colonization of the Americas leads to a period of spectacular opulence, the Mongol conquest leads to a series of powerful, productive empires, and in the modern era Britain’s empire is driven by its domination of India and by Persian oil.
His narrative ends with the conflicts in Iraq over the last thirty years, from the Gulf War to the invasion after 9/11. I’m certain that Frankopan wishes to portray these wars as preventable and wrong-headed, but in the greater context of his history, I honestly find it hard to say that it’s utterly unconscionable to be invading to seize this oil. Hypocritical, certainly, but a very understandable set of choices. Seize control of the East, become the biggest bully on the block.
The book isn’t bad, but I don’t think I’d recommend it. If you’re looking for a long-scale history survey I imagine there’s better ones out there, but this one’s decent. It can’t decide if it’s an Eastern history, a Persian history, or a European history; instead of any of those, Frankopan seems to have chosen to write The Silk Roads loosely about luxury trade. But, as I said before, his motivation seems more based on what riles him, rather than what fascinates and excites him.
As I said last week, I’ve been letting my writing brain sit on the bench for a little bit. Well, that ends now. I’ve submitted my “Thruns” short story to my current workshop class, gotten a whole lot of advice and critiques, and this coming week I’ll be revising it.
My goal is to focus on the narrative voice in my revision. I’ve already got it as a sort-of character in the piece, but I want to emphasize that more, to the point that I can have the narrator comment what Papa Thrun, the main character, cannot (or perhaps should not). A really good example of this sort of “non-existent character” is Tolkien’s narrator in The Hobbit. His voice is present from the first page (“…this was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.”) but rarely dominates the scene. He’s able to summarize, pass over bits, and focus the reader’s attention on other bits. It’s a lovely technique, and one that I’m excited to try to focus on.
The revision is due in about a week and a half, so while I hope to finish it in this upcoming week, I’m not requiring that of myself. (I am, of course, required to finish it by the deadline.) I’ll say at least being 10 pages in, preferably 15.
Now, afterward is (hopefully) the fun part. Once I’ve submitted my revision, and gotten notes back from the teacher, and futzed with it a little bit after that, my plan is to start submitting this story to Fantasy/Sci-Fi short fiction markets. Believe it or not, but they’re definitely out there. I’ve been browsing them for the last few weeks, reading bits and pieces–particularly from Strange Horizons and Lackington’s. My hope is that after having received quite a bit of critique and attention from those smarter/more talented/better looking/etc. than me, and then a bunch of my own attention, hopefully, maybe someone will buy it.
A boy can dream, eh?