1260 AD: Josseran Sarrazini is a man divided in his soul. A Christian Knight Templar haunted by a shameful past, he hopes to find redemption in a dangerous crusade: a journey from Palestine to Xanadu, to form a crucial allegiance against the Saracens at the legendary court of Kubilai Khan - the seat of the Mongol Empire. Instead he finds the solace he seeks in a warrior-princess from a heathen tribe. Beautiful and ferocious, Khutelun is a Tartar, a nomadic rider of the Mongolian steppe. Although their union is utterly impossible, she will find in Josseran what she cannot find in one of her own. Parched by desert winds, pursued by Saracen hordes, and now tormented by a passion he cannot control, Josseran must abandon Khutelun if he is to complete his journey and save his soul. Worse, he must travel with William, a Dominican friar of fearsome zeal who longs for matyrdom, but whose life Josseran is sworn to protect. And worse yet, he will arrive in Xanadu just as the greatest empire in human history plunges into civil war. Winding through the plains of Palestine and over the high mountains of the Hindu Kush, from the empty wastes of the Taklimakan desert to the golden palaces of China, Silk Road weaves a spellbinding story of sin, desire, conflict and human frailty onto the vast tapestry of the medieval orient.
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First, a confession. I got something wrong.
In my defence, I spent a year of my life and travelled fivethousand miles doing the research for SILK ROAD and the book is a hundred and fifty thousand wordslong.
But yes, on page 164, I made a mistake.
I found out when a reader sent me this email:
"I started reading Silk Road a couple of days back and wasenjoying it very much, just as I had enjoyed one of your other books.
However, when I reached Page 164 I found these words:"...green fields planted with tomatoes and aubergines..." I don't know aboutaubergines but I do know, as do mostpeople, [my italics] that tomatoes were not introduced to European cuisine,let alone further east, until the 16th century ...
Until I saw these words I had been impressed by the breadthand quality of your research but this is such a basic mistake that I just don'tfeel I can read on - it's not possible to enjoy an historical novel once onerealizes that the facts can't be trusted. I thought I'd point this out so thatthe mistake can be amended in future printings."
So there you have it. The case for the prosecution rests.
I have admitted my guilt and have taken to my bare back withchains. I leave on pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela within the week.
I don't know how this one got through. I spent a yearresearching SILK ROAD, paying close attention - among many other subjects - toTatar politics and dynastic succession after the death of Chinggis Khan, theNestorian church, shamanism among the nomadic tribes of the steppes, Crusaderpolitics, the topography of Shang-tu, (a city that long ago ceased to exist) ...shall I go on? The list is endless. None of it was easy.
But yes, I do very occasionally make mistakes.
I call for the defence Ken Follett, whose eleven hundredpage epic The Pillars of the Earth has rightfully been lauded as a masterpiece forits exhaustive historical research also contains ... hush my mouth ... errors.
For example, the many encounters across social classesdepicted in the book are unlikely - as the nobility spoke Norman French and thelower classes didn't. Sugar - which is mentioned several times - was notavailable in England then. A priory storeroom contained hops - but hops werenot used for food production until centuries later.
(But as far as I can ascertain he was spot on about tomatoes- 1-0 to Ken there.)
What galls me most is that researching SILK ROAD nearly costme my life.
Reaching the Mogao caves near Dunhuang, for example, meantrenting a Chinese four wheel drive and a driver and taking a day's drive intothe mountains north of the Taklimakan in far western China.
Just as we got back to Dunhuang the steering rod broke andthe car slewed off the road. Five minutes earlier we were driving along anescarpment; the slewing would not have been into a ditch but off a hair pinbend and down a five hundred metre cliff .
Perhaps our fall would have been cushioned by that tomatofield I saw at the bottom.
That research trip was some of the most uncomfortable travellingI've done in my life. I'll tell you about it some time; the projectilevomiting, the three puppies and the two men sharing the sleeper bed above mine,all those forty eight hour bus journeys ... I think I might have mentioned some of these things on my web page.
I didn't list that as part of my bibliography or my sources.I love a bit of adventure. But I naively expect the trouble I go to will earnme just a little bit of leeway with vegetables.
Sorry - fruit.
The mistake has been amended in all online versions, I'mpleased to say. And I hope it wouldn't stop you reading it anyway, it's one ofmy favourite books. The fiery Tatar princess, Khutelun; the Dominican friar,William, who everyone loves to hate; and the wry and prickly JosseranSarrazini, what Russel Crowe would be like if he had a sense of humour.
Born in the north of London, Colin drove cabs and played guitar in dark bars and rough pubs before joining an advertising agency. He then worked as a television and radio scriptwriter, and as a freelance journalist. He has been a full time novelist for the last twenty years with his work so far translated into seventeen languages.
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