Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Christopher Aslan Alexander; A Carpet Ride to Khiva, Seven Years on the Silk Road

Found in the library by lucky coincidence: 

A Carpet Ride to Khiva is a travelogue of sorts, but it's also much more. Christopher Alexander travels to the historical city of Khiva in Central Asia as a NGO aid worker and ends up spending seven years in Uzbekistan gaining an insight into the people and the country that isn't captured in normal travel literature. Colin Thubron has written on Uzbekistan maybe more eloquently, but also more superficially.

Alexander comes from a multicultural family himself and can maybe therefore appreciate the culture of Uzbeks on a different level than many others that have visited the country. His experiences remind me somewhat of my own early forays into China. The exhiliration of being in Asia, but also of the loneliness sometimes, when you're stuck in a country very alien to what you are used to, trying to blend in with the locals and realizing you will always be a visitor.

”Aslan” comes to Khiva for a short stint of relief work, but stays there setting up a carpet factory with some locals and learning the trade from scratch. The books goes into quite some detail of carpet design and manufacture, but this information is interwoven into the story and an integral and interesting part of it. The book has its share of drama, especially during Alexander's sourcing trips to Afghanistan.

The book beautifully describes life in a country that couldn't be more unfamiliar to most of us. It's not pretentious at all. Although Alexander apparently comes from a Christian background, the book is not judgmental (well, it is so towards the oppressive government, but rightly so), and the author does have a good sense for local customs and people. It's a sad story in a way, because you can't help but feeling sorry for the people living in fear of their government, and also because of the author's experiences in Uzbekistan, leading to his deportation. Like all good stories, one thing is left unsolved:What happens between Aksana and Alexander?

If you plan to buy an Asian carpet or are just interested in the area, do check out the book, it's a good read. Alexander is still living and breathing Central Asia, you can find out more on his webpage