The Silk Tree

Written by Julian Stockwin
Review by Marilyn Sherlock

There came certain monks who promised Emperor Justinian Augustus that they would provide the means for making silk from Sinae where they had learned the art…

Thus wrote Procopius, Byzantine scholar and Court historian at the time.

This story follows the journeyings of two such ‘monks’ from Constantinople to China and back, bringing with them some silkworm eggs. The journey is hazardous from the beginning, and our two heroes, Nicander, a Greek incense merchant who becomes known as Brother Paul, and Marius, a Roman Legionary (Brother Matthew), face hardship, danger and set-backs from page one. Their plans and schemes constantly go awry, and their lives are often at risk.

I knew that silk originated from China and was brought to the West in camel trains (the caravanserai) along the route that became known as the Silk Road, but had never known that the secret of how it was produced, and subsequently brought to the West, was thought to have been down to two monks. Here, Julian Stockwin takes this tale and turns it into a fascinating story, full of colour and incident. Many of his characters were real people who lived and died during this period of the 6th century. His other characters, including Nicander and Marius, are fictitious, but they dovetail in perfectly and are totally believable participants in the story. I enjoyed this book very much and will look out for this author again.