Philippe Valéry


Philippe Valéry's "On The Silk Road"

not personal enough

[note: I’ve been reading a German translation]

The story: in the late 1990s, French manager Philippe Valéry is in his thirties when he decides to walk from Marseille to Kashgar. He picks up a few sponsorships and starts his trek, walking through Italy and the Balkans, then on through Turkey, Georgia, Armenia, Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan into China.

great journey

The journey is great. There are moments of danger: when Iranian revolutionary guards detain him for taking photographs, when a caravan leaves him behind in the Pamir, or when he gets a helicopter ride in Afghanistan.

But there are also a lot of friendly interactions with the people along the way. Valéry seems to have a talent for languages, and he records many conversations.

flawed book

The book has a few flaws, though. First of all, Valéry begins the story of his journey in Turkey, leaving out all of his walk through Europe. This means six months of the journey aren’t in here. Odd.

Another thing is that the people Valéry describes often aren’t colorful enough to stand out. He diligently notes their appearances, their names, ages, and professions, but apart from that, they remain cardboard cutouts.

not enough of Philippe Valéry in this

Apart from this there is another problem: the story doesn’t feel very personal sometimes. For example: one time Valéry flies home to France to get surgery. When he returns to the point where he has left off, he remarks that he has just ended the relationship with his girlfriend. And that’s it.

To me, the personal aspect of traveling is important. I enjoy it when writers share something about themselves. Valéry does this when he talks about his love for football. These were some of the best parts of the book.

who might want to read this

Valéry’s feat of walking from France to China is awesome. His storytelling is alright, his writing style is okay, and the insights and observations he provides aren’t bad.

If you’re into long distance walking, or into the modern face of the Silk Roads, check this one out.

Also read: Karl Bushby, for an account of a long-distance walk that is at times a bit more personal.