The Road to Samarcand

Overview

O'Brian's richly told adventure saga, with its muscular prose, supple dialogue and engaging characters, packs a nice old-school punch." —Publishers WeeklyThis story begins where Patrick O'Brian's devoted fans would want it to, with a sloop in the South China Sea barely surviving a killer typhoon. The time is the 1930s and the protagonist a teenaged American boy whose missionary parents have just died. In the company of his rough seafaring uncle and an elderly English cousin, an eminent archaeologist, Derrick sets...

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The Road to Samarcand

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Overview

O'Brian's richly told adventure saga, with its muscular prose, supple dialogue and engaging characters, packs a nice old-school punch." —Publishers WeeklyThis story begins where Patrick O'Brian's devoted fans would want it to, with a sloop in the South China Sea barely surviving a killer typhoon. The time is the 1930s and the protagonist a teenaged American boy whose missionary parents have just died. In the company of his rough seafaring uncle and an elderly English cousin, an eminent archaeologist, Derrick sets off in search of ancient treasures in central Asia.Along the way they encounter a charismatic Chinese bandit and a host of bad characters, including Russian agents fomenting unrest. The narrative touches on surprising subjects: astronomy, oriental philosophy, the correct identification of ancient Han bronzes, and some very local cuisine. It ends in an ice-bound valley, with the party caught between hostile Red-Hat monks and the Great Silent Ones, the Tibetan designation for the yeti.

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Editorial Reviews

Los Angeles Times
“A rattling good adventure story....The first chapter alone is worth the price.”
Publishers Weekly
Years before a top sailor named Jack Aubrey, rising through the ranks of the British Navy during the Napoleonic Wars, joined forces with his best friend-an Irish-Spanish doctor, naturalist and spy called Stephen Maturin-to make the seas safe and profitable for the British Empire, another young spy named Richard Patrick Russ was falling in love with the sea. He began his long and eventually illustrious career after changing his name to Patrick O'Brien, and his first work of oceangoing adventure was this unformed but energetic tale of a teenaged American boy who goes on a dangerous voyage across the typhoon-tossed South China Sea. Originally published in the UK in 1954, this book's stateside debut was in 2007. Simon Vance, who has recorded almost all of O'Brien's work on audio, is perfect; he catches every vocal social nuance and foreign accent without veering into caricature. A Norton hardcover (Reviews, Apr. 16, 2007). (May).
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal
First published in 1954, O'Brian's tale of an orphaned American teenager chasing down a mysterious treasure in Central Asia gets a sparkling new edition. Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
This adventure story, set in the Far East, was originally published in 1954; it predates the naval warfare novels that made O'Brian (1914-2000) famous. Derrick, an American teenager in China between the World Wars, recently lost both his missionary parents, but don't feel badly for him; he's a spirited lad, enjoying his apprenticeship on a schooner in the South China Sea. He's there because its skipper Sullivan, a resourceful man of action, is his uncle. They're on their way to meet Professor Ayrton, an elderly English archaeologist and Derrick's cousin; Ayrton wants the boy to attend school, the one thing Derrick dreads. As a palliative, the kindly prof suggests postponing school until they've made an overland journey to Samarcand, the legendary Central Asian city; there will be archaeological digs en route. The schooner is dry-docked, and the group sets off from Peking, joined by two sailors, a Scot and a Swede, the ship's cook Li Han and three Mongols with their pack animals. They will travel the Old Silk Road on horseback, crossing the Gobi desert and Mongolia; the principal danger will be rival warlords. Sure enough, Sullivan and Ross, the Scotsman, are soon taken prisoner by the villainous Shun Chi, who's in league with the Russians. The frail professor, discovering in himself a "transient thirst for blood," leaps into action. By impersonating a Russian he frees the two men, and threatens a warlord with his own revolver. This is dramatic, but only up to a point, for we know the good guys will emerge unscathed. Only much later, when the group is forced to enter a valley in Tibet haunted by the Abominable Snowman and three of the group are left for dead, does the action have realbite. A miraculous escape in a Russian helicopter from some hostile monks completes the story. A likable if far-fetched jaunt; O'Brian lacks the mastery of his material which he will show in the Aubrey/Maturin series.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393333169
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 12/1/2008
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 778,144
  • Product dimensions: 5.62 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 0.74 (d)

Meet the Author

Patrick O'Brian

Patrick O'Brian's acclaimed Aubrey/Maturin series of historical novels has been described as "a masterpiece" (David Mamet, New York Times), "addictively readable" (Patrick T. Reardon, Chicago Tribune), and "the best historical novels ever written" (Richard Snow, New York Times Book Review), which "should have been on those lists of the greatest novels of the 20th century" (George Will).Set in the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars, O'Brian's twenty-volume series centers on the enduring friendship between naval officer Jack Aubrey and physician (and spy) Stephen Maturin. The Far Side of the World, the tenth book in the series, was adapted into a 2003 film directed by Peter Weir and starring Russell Crowe and Paul Bettany. The film was nominated for ten Oscars, including Best Picture. The books are now available in hardcover, paperback, and e-book format.In addition to the Aubrey/Maturin novels, Patrick O'Brian wrote several books including the novels Testimonies, The Golden Ocean, and The Unknown Shore, as well as biographies of Joseph Banks and Picasso. He translated many works from French into English, among them the novels and memoirs of Simone de Beauvoir, the first volume of Jean Lacouture's biography of Charles de Gaulle, and famed fugitive Henri Cherrière's memoir Papillon. O'Brian died in January 2000.

Biography

In addition to the twenty volumes of the highly-respected Aubrey/Maturin series, Patrick O'Brian's many novels include Testimonies, The Golden Ocean, and The Unknown Shore. O'Brian has also written acclaimed biographies of Pablo Picasso and Sir Joseph Banks and has translated many works from the French, among them the novels and memoirs of Simone de Beauvoir and Jean Lacouture's biography of Charles de Gaulle. Born in 1914, he passed away in January 2000.

Patrick O'Brian was one of the great authors of the twentieth century, whose novels were often compared by critics to the work of Jane Austen and even Homer. A writer of breathtaking erudition, Mr. O'Brian evoked in complete and dazzling detail an entire world -- that of the British Navy during the Napoleonic Wars. In addition to formidable scholarship, Mr. O'Brian brought to his work keen psychological insights, a sharp wit, and fast-paced, heart-stopping action.

In a cover story in The New York Times Book Review published on January 6, 1991, nine years to the day before Mr. O'Brian's death, Richard Snow wrote that Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturin naval adventure novels are "the best historical novels ever written. On every page Mr. O'Brian reminds us with subtle artistry of the most important of all historical lessons: that times change but people don't, that the griefs and follies and victories of the men and women who were here before us are in fact the maps of our own lives." In a Washington Post article published August 2, 1992, Ken Ringle wrote, "The Aubrey/Maturin series far beyond any episodic chronicle, ebbs and flows with the timeless tide of character and the human heart."

W.W. Norton & Company began publishing Patrick O'Brian's books in 1990. The previous year, Norton's editor-in-chief, Starling Lawrence, had read The Reverse of the Medal on a trans-Atlantic flight, fallen hard for the series, and had become convinced that Norton ought to publish Mr. O'Brian's works in the U.S. Norton decided to publish each new book in hardcover as it was completed and to bring out the earlier books in the series in paperback until they had caught up. The first season, Norton published The Letter of Marque (# 12) in hardcover and Master and Commander (# 1) and Post Captain (# 2) in paperback. Most recently, Norton published Blue at the Mizzen (# 20) in hardcover in 1999 and in paperback in 2000. At present, Norton has all of the books in the series available in uniform hardcover and paperback editions.

In addition to the twenty books in the Aubrey/Maturin series, Norton has published a short story collection (The Rendezvous and Other Stories) and three of Mr. O'Brian's other novels: Testimonies, The Golden Ocean, and The Unknown Shore. O'Brian has also written acclaimed biographies of Pablo Picasso and Sir Joseph Banks and has translated many works from the French, among them the novels and memoirs of Simone de Beauvoir and Jean Lacouture's biography of Charles de Gaulle. In April of 2000, Norton published Caesar: The Life Story of a Panda-Leopard, his very first book, begun when he was just twelve, and Hussein: An Entertainment, written when he was about twenty years old. Both of these books had long been out of print.

Starting in the early 1990s, Mr. O'Brian achieved, at long last, the critical and popular recognition that was his due. All of his new books published since 1993 have appeared on national bestseller charts, and his books have sold well over three million copies in the U.S. alone.

Mr. O'Brian once said, "Obviously, I have lived very much out of the world: I know little of present-day Dublin or London or Paris, even less of post-modernity, post-structuralism, hard rock or rap, and I cannot write with much conviction about the contemporary scene." [Patrick O'Brian: Critical Essays and a Bibliography, edited by Arthur Cunningham]. In fact, Mr. O'Brian often seemed to have walked out of another era, and in his interactions with his publisher, he displayed a level of courtesy and civility rarely seen in our times.

Author biography courtesy of W.W. Norton & Company.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Richard Patrick Russ
    1. Date of Birth:
      December 12, 1914
    2. Place of Birth:
      Chalfont St. Peter, Buckinghamshire
    1. Date of Death:
      January 2, 2000
    2. Place of Death:
      Dublin, Ireland

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