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Book: Lands of Lost Borders: Out of Bounds on the Silk Road

Lands of Lost Borders: Out of Bounds on the Silk Road

By Kate Harris
Published in 2019 by Vintage Books Canada
Originally published in 2018
Finished reading: February 1st, 2020
Rating: 3 / 5


Like Rebecca Solnit and Pico Iyer before her, Kate Harris offers a travel narrative at once exuberant and meditative, wry and rapturous. Weaving adventure and deep reflection with the history of science and exploration, Lands of Lost Borders explores the nature of limits and the wildness of a world that, like the self and like the stars, can never be fully mapped.


Your sole responsibility on Earth, as long as your legs last each day, is to breathe, pedal, breathe—and look around.


Overall, I ended up disappointed by the book. The book is categorized as a memoir so I shouldn’t have been surprised by the entire first half of the book being self-indulgent. I didn’t mind some of it as a setup for the second half of the book — the bike riding and travel half — but it dragged on to the point where it became a story of a privileged person not being able to make up their mind on what to do with their life.

The book picked up in the second half when the bike riding, people meeting, and history reminding started. There was a bit of humour and lots of self-reflection which I enjoy in travel books. Even though I’m a hiker and not a cyclist, I could relate to some of the pedal stroke after pedal stroke monotony the author describes, and the joy of having a treat of a chocolate cookie or cold drink.

As much as the second half almost made up for the first half, in the end I was left disappointed by the self-indulgence of it all. The author describes how they have next to no money to take this trip and decides to run an online fundraising campaign. When that still hasn’t raised the required funds, they decide to get a grant for some “research” to cover the costs. The book didn’t cover much at all of this research and it came across simply as an excuse to get other people to pay for a very personal trip. That left a sour taste in my mouth that I couldn’t quite get over.