Recently, while browsing through a book store, I found “In Xanadu: A Quest” by William Dalrymple, and wondered that being a fan of his work, how did I not read one of his earliest work? Without wasting any further thought, I bought the book and not for a second, I was disappointed with it.
As the name suggest, this book is about a Quest to follow the route of Marco Polo who traveled around around seas, deserts & Mountains to reach Xanadu, an ancient capital of Mongolia and fort of descendants of the Great conqueror Genghis khan. Ok, I admit, it does not sound as exciting as it is to replicate a voyage from history when the world has become flatter & more connected. Well, its 1980s & he had to pass through Turkey, Israel, Syria, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan & China. Turkey was not as cool as it is today, Israel was fragile as today, entering Syria from Israel border was never a cakewalk, Iran was in middle of its revolution, Afghanistan was still recovering from Russian invasion, Swat Valley of Pakistan has always been weird & China was not as open as it is today. The result: adventure & challenge as interesting as that of Marco Polo (If we just ignore the scale )
This book was very different from the William Darlymple I am use to read. Here, we have young author, right in the middle of break up, making trip in the modest university grant, with an ambition to become a writer. However, his style of writing is very similar to later works. He does not try too hard to dramatize or metaphorize his adventures, stick to mono-tone (which does not imply boring) & mixes his journey with regular dose of history(which is his game). Younger Darlymple might have been more critical to his older self, like in one instance in the book, he mention his un-approval for urbanization (or Electric-wirization) of Jerusalem or his dislike of Turkey’s “too good for tourist” machoness.
There are many moments in the book when William can make you envious, not only because of his expedition but also because of his courage. His voyage involved many risks & uncertainties . There were many lessons of history to grow on, like t that Marco Polo’s The Travels was not a travel book but rather was a business journal (I checked in internet, but could not confirm it there )
Overall, I recommend In Xanadu if travel and history excites you. I rated it 4 out of 5 stars in Goodreads.
Oh! also Merry Christmas friends, wish you all have a great time on holidays.
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