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30 review for In Xanadu [Paperback]

  1. 4 out of 5

    Antara

    I love William Dalrymple for the simple fact that he writes about his amazing travels through a seamless blend of fact and fiction. Having read and loved his City of Djinns (a must-read if you're a Dilliwala), Nine Lives and White Mughals, I have loved this first book of his as well. In this book, the author, a final year Cambridge student, tries to backpack his way through the route Marco Polo had taken - Turkey, Iran and finally China, in the Inner Mongols in Xanadu where Marco Polo ended his I love William Dalrymple for the simple fact that he writes about his amazing travels through a seamless blend of fact and fiction. Having read and loved his City of Djinns (a must-read if you're a Dilliwala), Nine Lives and White Mughals, I have loved this first book of his as well. In this book, the author, a final year Cambridge student, tries to backpack his way through the route Marco Polo had taken - Turkey, Iran and finally China, in the Inner Mongols in Xanadu where Marco Polo ended his voyage. In volatile political conditions, with a nomad's eye, a sometimes cynical sense of humor and only a 13th century book to guide him, the author takes the reader through time. With him we experience the creation of history, the readiness to savor the unexpected and the realization of why humans through centuries have been driven by wanderlust for the unknown - because, more often than not, it is quite literally the journey and not the destination that matters.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Rizowana

    ---SPOILERS AHEAD--- It was a pity I read this book. I used to like Dalrymple. But this book turned out to be yet another account of a White man on a daring trip across the world in dangerous lands from whence it is next to impossible to come out alive, all while writing encouragingly of every stereotype the Whites have ever come up with of every other race apart from themselves. Anyone who is not a British is either dangerous, "stupid", uncouth, imbecilic, unfriendly and hostile or subservient ---SPOILERS AHEAD--- It was a pity I read this book. I used to like Dalrymple. But this book turned out to be yet another account of a White man on a daring trip across the world in dangerous lands from whence it is next to impossible to come out alive, all while writing encouragingly of every stereotype the Whites have ever come up with of every other race apart from themselves. Anyone who is not a British is either dangerous, "stupid", uncouth, imbecilic, unfriendly and hostile or subservient to the White man in a servile way. In way too many passages, Dalrymple speaks less like a historian and more like an inflated Cambridge spoiled brat and the pages are full of his whining. The beginning of his journey reveals him as one whose ego cannot seem to accept the fact that the Byzantines lost and the Ottomans won in the years past. There is not a single positive word I have come across written of the Ottomans or of the Turks in general. Any positive comment that the reader comes across is only when Dalrymple has run out of anything negative to say, and even that is immediately followed by a passage with disparaging humour that negates what came previously. Dalrymple's words stink of the awareness of their wretched losses in the past. His patronising tone does not help to conceal his thinly veiled racism and antagonism towards other cultures. Even his Islamophobia shines across in this telling exchange: '"You like Islam?" "I like many Muslims, I replied.' (pg. 236) His humour is one of the worst I have come across. Eager to be a success, Dalrymple's attempts to make people laugh comprise of mining the Englishman's guidebook to stereotyping the rest of the world. He makes fun of the people's inabilities to speak English, often translating what they speak in their native tongues into broken and incorrect English in order to elicit cheap laughs from his colonial audience. A lot of the conversations seem made up as they seem very convenient to Dalrymple's cause of sounding witty. I do not know if it is an attempt on his part to come across as a "critical scholar of Cambridge" but if it is so, it falls flat on its face, only highlighting his racist mindset. There is an air of self-aggrandisement in every page and his spoilt White-boy privilege reeks from every word. He does not even spare his female travel companions. His portrayal of Laura and Louisa reads like caricature, which is true of his representation of practically everyone he meets on the way as well. While he subtly puts across messages like how European girls are the only girls worth calling beautiful etc. and equating fairness with European skin, he also does not attempt to hide his innate sexism. Laura, his travel companion in the first half of the journey is painted as a tough, domineering and indestructible woman while Louisa, who accompanies him in the second half, is the polar opposite of being "beautiful, delicate and fragrant" (his words not mine). He is also genuinely surprised to find Laura reading Mills and Boon at one stage of their journey and seems incapable of reconciling the fact that someone as tough as Laura could be capable of having healthy sexual desires as well, and that she would choose to read erotica out in the open rather than the obviously intellectually superior Fall of Constantinople which he makes a point of boasting before changing the topic. The exchanges with the natives are almost all carried out by Dalrymple with Laura and Louisa sometimes chipping in to not let the reader forget about their existence. I pity those poor, intelligent women who had to suffer William Dalrymple's company for such a long, overland journey. I am willing to excuse him on the grounds that he was merely 20 years old when he wrote this book. Still, that is not excuse enough as that is old enough to know the difference between good humour and outright disrespect of other cultures. I also applaud his determination in following this journey out to the end, and for laying the ground and following up with an original idea. Credits where credits due: following Marco Polo's footsteps across the Silk Road is, after all, quite a feat and I give it an extra star only because of his excellent command over the turns of the English language. I only wish this journey was attempted by someone who would show more respect to the cultures and peoples that are encountered in this journey. I wonder, sometimes, if someone were to write a travel book about the West in an equally disparaging and patronising manner, would it get published? At best, this book is comical in its approach. It is certainly not deserving of the label of a serious travel book.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Chris Ziesler

    A Thousand and One Tales from the Silk Road This is quite simply an enchanting book and for two interconnected reasons. The first and most striking reason is that Dalrymple manages to capture and convey the shear sense of wonder and excitement that comes from traveling across the world when young. So young, in fact, that I kept having to remind myself that he was only 22 when he wrote it. If that were its only noteworthy aspect the book would be just one of many other worthy works of travel and ex A Thousand and One Tales from the Silk Road This is quite simply an enchanting book and for two interconnected reasons. The first and most striking reason is that Dalrymple manages to capture and convey the shear sense of wonder and excitement that comes from traveling across the world when young. So young, in fact, that I kept having to remind myself that he was only 22 when he wrote it. If that were its only noteworthy aspect the book would be just one of many other worthy works of travel and exploration. What makes Dalrymple's book so compelling is his extensive grasp of the history and culture of the lands through which he traveled. I like to think that I have read a little of the literature relevant to the countries he passed through but time and again I was brought up short by some tale of a character, event or place of which I had never heard but that had caught Dalrymple's imagination and whose story he wished to share. He proved to be a teller of tales every bit as adept and entrancing as Scheherazade. The premise of the book is that after graduating Dalrymple wanted to re-trace the footsteps of Marco Polo from Jerusalem across Asia Minor and deep into the heart of Asia in search of the legendary Xanadu. To do this he had to pass through Israel, Syria, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and China, visiting some of the most important and memorable sites of antiquity on the way. He made his journey in the late 80s meaning that his journey, although maybe not as perilous or difficult, was a worthy successor to Marco Polo's epic voyage. Since reading In Xanadu I have gone on to read several other books by Dalrymple and while his mature style is a little more settled and refined I look back on this first journey I shared with him with a special fondness for its marvelous exuberance and sense of the infinite possibility of youth.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Judy

    A fun trek across the continent. Full of entertaining anecdotes, colorful characters and challenges. Well worth the read. Recommended to me by my daughter who was spot on once again. Dalrymple entertains with his British wit, colorful portrayals, sense of adventure and caricatures of his fellow travels. Although a fun read, it gives the reader historical context as well as a look at the different cultures. Recommend for Around the World readers.

  5. 4 out of 5

    The Tick

    Oy. I've loved everything else by William Dalrymple so far, but I was really unhappy with this. It lacks a lot of the reflection that I've come to associate with him, and a lot of the humor was really unpleasant. It also skimmed over a lot of detail, and the bits of background history incorporated into the narrative often don't flow very well. Skip this one and go straight to City of Djinns: A Year in Delhi. Oy. I've loved everything else by William Dalrymple so far, but I was really unhappy with this. It lacks a lot of the reflection that I've come to associate with him, and a lot of the humor was really unpleasant. It also skimmed over a lot of detail, and the bits of background history incorporated into the narrative often don't flow very well. Skip this one and go straight to City of Djinns: A Year in Delhi.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Garrett

    This is an an-times entertaining account of a late 80's attempt to retrace the Voyages of Marco Polo (follow the author hitching a ride through the Chinese desert on the back of a coal truck while hiding from the police!) But disappointingly, the book is betrayed by frequent forays into casual racism. Dalrymple is impressively knowledgeable about ancient history, texts and architecture, but is uninformed about the people who actually live in the places he's visiting in the present day, frequentl This is an an-times entertaining account of a late 80's attempt to retrace the Voyages of Marco Polo (follow the author hitching a ride through the Chinese desert on the back of a coal truck while hiding from the police!) But disappointingly, the book is betrayed by frequent forays into casual racism. Dalrymple is impressively knowledgeable about ancient history, texts and architecture, but is uninformed about the people who actually live in the places he's visiting in the present day, frequently relying on obsolete guidebooks. Dalrymple makes his way through Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, Xinjiang, and China while never speaking the native language, and thus can't effectively communicate with anyone besides his two British traveling companions and a rich college chum he stays with in Lahore. This wouldn't inherently be a problem, since he's ostensibly writing about Marco Polo rather than modern Central Asia, but Dalrymple can't resist making snide comments about people as they struggle to speak English to him. The non-whites in the book inevitably receive caricature-like portrayals. This happens enough that it becomes difficult to ignore. Consider some of the following examples, which stood out to me: p.69 [an English version of a Turkish restaurant's menu pasted verbatim for the purpose of making fun of the poor translation. Remember that Dalrymple received this menu because he is unable to read the actual Turkish menu, while at a restaurant in Turkey.] p. 71 "Good looks have been shared out unevenly among the Turks. Their men are almost all handsome with dark, supple skin and strong features: good bones, sharp eyes and tall, masculine bodies. But the women share their menfolk's pronounced features in a most unflattering way. Very few are beautiful. Their noses are too large, their chins too prominent. Baggy wraps conceal pneumatic bodies. Here must lie the reason for the Turks' easy drift out of heterosexuality." p. 82 "10:30 p.m. Set off two hours late, only to stop at the bus station in Tarsus, the home of St. Paul. Enough to give anyone wanderlust: loud Turkish music and some sort of mewing Turkish transvestite. He/she/it tells me Tarsus is 'very romantic place.' It wore thick mascara, pink lipstick, and held a small yellow handbag." p. 215 "Never sleep with an Afghan. They snore, and they rise indecently early." p. 259 "but it was only when we stopped at a han for the night that I discovered that my side pocket had been ransacked and my razor blades, malaria pills, insect repellent, sun cream and athlete's foot powder were all gone. It was a terrible waste: the Chinese cannot grow beards, do not suffer from malaria or sunburn, and were unlikely to guess what to do with the athlete's foot powder or the Jungle Juice insect repellent. My only consolation was the thought that the wretches might try to eat them." p. 280 "Mr. Flying Chicken was a gentleman of Singaporean origin who was remarkable chiefly for his kingly girth and his efforts to maintain it by constant feeding . . . Mr. Chicken produced a whole, cold boiling fowl. He lifted it aloft with the same reverence as a Catholic priest might lift the host at the elevation. He looked at Louisa and me with hungry eyes. 'Fly Chikky,' he murmured. . . . Mr. Chicken rose and made to leave the compartment. As he did so he turned and flashed a smile in our direction. 'I go gi' foo. I go gi' fly chikky.'" p. 295 "The Mongols were ugly and inquisitive. They had narrow, high-set eyes and tight, dark skin . . . Lou suggested that they were all cousins and had interbred: that, certainly, would explain both their unusual stupidity and how so many of them managed to live in so few houses." It is tempting to dismiss this sort of stuff because the book was written in the 1980's. But I don't think that's the reason - Patrick Leigh Fermor's A Time of Gifts, for example, describes a journey made in 1933 (albeit written in 1977) and has none of these issues, even when he encounters language barriers beginning in Germany. I don't recall this being an issue in any of Dalrymple's books about India which I read and enjoyed several years ago, so perhaps he matured with age. In any case, it's a major drag on In Xanadu. Travel writing as a genre is frequently criticized for ethnocentrism and this is a textbook example. It's another reminder of why Anthony Bourdain was so widely mourned, as he at least gave the impression of treating everyone he encountered with respect, no matter how humble the surroundings.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Sandeep M.Ratkal

    May be book had some relevance in 1986 . Today it's neither a historical narrative nor a travelogue . It's just a meandering classless essay. Having seen Marco Polo on Netflix , Genghis Khan and Mongol movies on YouTube I had high expectations from the book. I started reading hence wanted to finish . Otherwise it's not worth the time. Only saving grace is some humour here & there. May be book had some relevance in 1986 . Today it's neither a historical narrative nor a travelogue . It's just a meandering classless essay. Having seen Marco Polo on Netflix , Genghis Khan and Mongol movies on YouTube I had high expectations from the book. I started reading hence wanted to finish . Otherwise it's not worth the time. Only saving grace is some humour here & there.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Richard Evert

    Dalrymple is a gifted writer, but I soon tired of his acerbic takedowns of the locals.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Barbara

    Whilst I've set the dates to show just a few days for reading this book, it's actually about 6 months since I started it and abandoned it before picking it up again and being determined this time to force myself to get to the end. William Dalrymple has written many books about India - and as an Indiaphile, I've bought them and failed to get stuck in, finding them for the most part incredibly boring. I cracked and bought 'In Xanadu' when I read that his travel companion was Laura Wade-Gery, a wom Whilst I've set the dates to show just a few days for reading this book, it's actually about 6 months since I started it and abandoned it before picking it up again and being determined this time to force myself to get to the end. William Dalrymple has written many books about India - and as an Indiaphile, I've bought them and failed to get stuck in, finding them for the most part incredibly boring. I cracked and bought 'In Xanadu' when I read that his travel companion was Laura Wade-Gery, a woman I played Ice Hockey with at Oxford. I was also interested because a good friend at Oxford had hitch-hiked to Pakistan at about the same time that Dalrymple made his journey (though thankfully he didn't write a book about it). There are some excellent bits. I really did enjoy the 'life on the road' passages, the hardships endured and the fascinating people met along the way. I completely recognised his descriptions of my feisty old team mate and the way she bullied him into action. The problem is that the good stuff is just too dispersed between heavy, tedious stuff about Marco Polo (presumably to justify the travel grant he received from his Oxford college) and obsessive detail about architecture. Sorry but when it comes to architecture, the old adage of 'show don't tell' comes into its own. I recall the casual racism of the mid 80s far too well and some of his observations about racial groups just feel icky viewed from a 2017 perspective - for example, the men of Iran are casually dismissed as 'effeminate' which I'm pretty sure guarantees that WD won't be invited back any time soon and he seems utterly unsympathetic to the Uighers, today a highly persecuted ethnic group within China. The final quarter of the book was much more manageable because he finally dropped all the intellectual pontificating and historical blah blah blah but the first half was dreary in the extreme. This must have been one of WD's first books and he clearly didn't know what he wanted it to be. A travelogue -yes, it's quite good at that. An intellectual treatise on Marco Polo - not really, it's not thorough enough for that, and not sufficiently treated with academic citations. That said, I was so relieved when I got to 90% on my Kindle and it was thankfully over (with 10% of the pages on lists of academic references none of which had been numbered in the text). This book has the makings of a cracking good 150 page travel adventure. It's a shame it's a 320 page bore-fest of poorly structured muddled history shoe-horned in presumably when he got back to Cambridge and tried to make his adventure look a bit more intellectual. I only survived by skipping the history to get to the 'good bits'.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Adi

    In Xanadu- a Quest; by William Darlymple, 302pp, 1990 Seven centuries ago, the famous trader, explorer Marco Polo set off from Jerusalem on a mission to reach the court of the Mongol King Kubla Khan, who’s palace was in a place called Xanadu. He then immortalized his journey in The Travels, which later became one of the most detailed pieces of travel writing ever completed. In his first book, the (then) 21-year old Mr. Darlymple takes readers back on the same route, attempting at every page to co In Xanadu- a Quest; by William Darlymple, 302pp, 1990 Seven centuries ago, the famous trader, explorer Marco Polo set off from Jerusalem on a mission to reach the court of the Mongol King Kubla Khan, who’s palace was in a place called Xanadu. He then immortalized his journey in The Travels, which later became one of the most detailed pieces of travel writing ever completed. In his first book, the (then) 21-year old Mr. Darlymple takes readers back on the same route, attempting at every page to compare and re-live the experience that Polo may have felt on his epic journey. The author’s keen eye for detail, particularly architecture, and his knack of seeing humor in trite, everyday occurrences, makes Xanadu a fairly pleasing read. In an age where thousands of miles are shrunk into a ten-hour ride in an aluminum tube, Xanadu refreshes the reader by painting the gradual transitions that are an essential part of going from one place to another. The appearance of the lamps in the Holy Sepulcher, the design of Turkish mosques, a rare silk mill in a Armenian village or the vivid descriptions of a Uighur market in China – the details are just beautiful. Darlymple is clearly of scholarly leanings, a fact brought out repeatedly in the intricate descriptions of the architecture, and his ability to go back to some little-known text to draw a comparison between the present and the past. Little vignettes – like that of a very helpful Turkish innkeeper, a mullah at a bus station in the Iran-Afghan border, and a persistent Chinese saleswoman, known simply as Ms. Curd, who knocks on the author’s door at ridiculously early hours in the morning, are all a joy to read. Its his ability to pick interesting bits from seemingly mundane journeys sets this book apart. Unlike conventional travel guides that tend to find the craft waxing narratives about even the most boring towns, Darlymple’s willingness to pay scant attention or pretty much ignore “absolutely terrible towns” is a breath of fresh air. However, the same attention to detail that makes the book outstanding tends to get overly erudite at times. Darlymple’s urge to digress into stories from the past sometime go on for pages, and leaves plenty of moments when I felt like putting the book down because it was just too much detail. I would have loved to see a piece with a little less architectural descriptions and more color on the fantastic and varied bunch of people he encountered along the way.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Manish

    In the 13th century, Marco Polo travelled from Europe to Xanadu through modern day Israel, Syria, Iran, Turkey, Afghanistan, Pakistan and China. As an emissary of the Pope, his aim mission was to convince Kublai Khan to embrace Christianity. In 1986, Dalrymple decided to trace a similair route which Polo charted and this book chronicles his experiences. Somehow, due to a lack of understanding of the various branches of Christianity and the complex Central Asian histories, this book didn't match In the 13th century, Marco Polo travelled from Europe to Xanadu through modern day Israel, Syria, Iran, Turkey, Afghanistan, Pakistan and China. As an emissary of the Pope, his aim mission was to convince Kublai Khan to embrace Christianity. In 1986, Dalrymple decided to trace a similair route which Polo charted and this book chronicles his experiences. Somehow, due to a lack of understanding of the various branches of Christianity and the complex Central Asian histories, this book didn't match up to my expectations.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Brian Wright

    I will never understand the really ridiculous orientalist approach that never seems to die in the world. I have spent more than 6 years amongst Arabs and have never found the homosexual, sheesha smoking pedophile which Dalrymple keeps running into. Nevertheless, the book does improve after leaving the Arab world and it was only after passing over the first section that I was able to find the strength to complete the book and scrounge up a slightly better ranking

  13. 5 out of 5

    Rohit Walavalkar

    I didn't complete this book. Partly because I didn't like the way Israeli Jews or the Israel Government in general was being described. I know that Israel is not an Innocent country per se, but the author just seems too prejudiced about it. I was not willing to take anymore of the author's jaundiced views. I didn't complete this book. Partly because I didn't like the way Israeli Jews or the Israel Government in general was being described. I know that Israel is not an Innocent country per se, but the author just seems too prejudiced about it. I was not willing to take anymore of the author's jaundiced views.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Doug

    Some good bits but overall not "as advertised," at least to me. I suspect the review that put me onto this hyped the book more than was justified. An undergraduate's effort to be Paul Theroux best describes it. Some good bits but overall not "as advertised," at least to me. I suspect the review that put me onto this hyped the book more than was justified. An undergraduate's effort to be Paul Theroux best describes it.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan Haines

    Liked it, but wish there was a bit more of Polo. The traveling part of it was monotonous and a little boring. He's a good writer, but after so many miles, I was ready for Xanadu already. However, this book definitely did have some good historical tidbits in it. Liked it, but wish there was a bit more of Polo. The traveling part of it was monotonous and a little boring. He's a good writer, but after so many miles, I was ready for Xanadu already. However, this book definitely did have some good historical tidbits in it.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Stacey

    Liked by Larissa & Cas but loathed by everyone else - so only 2 stars.....

  17. 4 out of 5

    Andy

    Not as good as his other two travel books (From The Holy Mountain, and City of Djinns), which were both amazing. This one comes across as childish and more than a bit bigoted at times

  18. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    I liked it! I could relate to much of the writing angst and decisions about stepping away from the novel writing. Not sure I’d recommend it for non-writers though.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Sandith

    Why is this guy called a leading writer? How does this substandard writer get to control litfests?

  20. 4 out of 5

    Kartik

    The year is 1987. A young William Dalrymple, not yet a travel writer of international renown, sets off on a journey to retrace the journey Marco Polo took in the 13th century, from Jerusalem to the fabled East Asian capital of Kublai Khan, over land. In Xanadu is an account of his travels, a tumultuous series of events that see a young, privileged Westerner forced out of his comfort zone and thrown into the deep end. Dalrymple's narration paints a colorful picture of the various regions he passes The year is 1987. A young William Dalrymple, not yet a travel writer of international renown, sets off on a journey to retrace the journey Marco Polo took in the 13th century, from Jerusalem to the fabled East Asian capital of Kublai Khan, over land. In Xanadu is an account of his travels, a tumultuous series of events that see a young, privileged Westerner forced out of his comfort zone and thrown into the deep end. Dalrymple's narration paints a colorful picture of the various regions he passes through over the course of his journey, with historical anecdotes and stories that build context and add an added layer of perspective to the narration, with references from numerous earlier travelers and descriptions of the cities and how they've building a larger backdrop against which the narration plays out. Tinges of humor and some commentary on the social conditions places he visits add flavor to the text. Often highly descriptive, Dalrymple's writing, with his eye for detail (especially when it comes to architecture), helps drive the narration and often makes what is ultimately a personal account rather compelling storytelling. Despite the greater background context and the research put into the building it, the book lacks a human perspective, with stereotyping and a certain condescension towards the various locals he meets (and even befriends) showing an unwillingness to engage with the very places whose history he holds in such wonder. This only serves to dampen and lessen the effect the book otherwise has, making it two-dimensional in more aspects than one. Sometimes you feel the book is more about Dalrymple's own personal musings and his love of history and architecture than the journey and the places themselves.

  21. 5 out of 5

    LiB

    This has not aged well. I've read and enjoyed William Dalrymple as an experienced historian. “The Last Mughal" was a wonderful account of India under colonialism, sensitive to the lost glories of Mughal culture, and subtly enraged by the British boorishness that saw other civilisation as intrinsically inferior. I hadn't realised how much Dalrymple was attacking his younger self. In Xanadu is famous for being an erudite book by a surprisingly young man. Dalrymple was in his early 20's when he deci This has not aged well. I've read and enjoyed William Dalrymple as an experienced historian. “The Last Mughal" was a wonderful account of India under colonialism, sensitive to the lost glories of Mughal culture, and subtly enraged by the British boorishness that saw other civilisation as intrinsically inferior. I hadn't realised how much Dalrymple was attacking his younger self. In Xanadu is famous for being an erudite book by a surprisingly young man. Dalrymple was in his early 20's when he decided, apparently on a whim, to follow in the steps of Marco Polo and deliver oil from Jerusalem to the remains of Kubla Khan's summer palace at Cheng-du, the Xanadu of Coleridge. Young William Dalrymple was clearly incredibly well read, a fluent author apart from some uneven infodumping, and his delight in Islamic (and Islamic adjacent) architecture shone through. He was also obnoxious, obliviously privileged, condescending and racist. As much as Dalrymple loved the antique buildings of the countries he traveled in, he constantly had vile things to say about not only the customs but the appearance and facial features of the people who live there. This is a sadly typical example: “Dogubayazit was full of sinister, swarthy Turks. A few had sliteyed Mongol features. They wore ragged waistcoats and stared deadpan from open doorways.” He later speculates that Turkish men are gay because Turkish women are ugly. It is awful to read. Although he saw himself as broke, his way was largely smoothed by being incredibly posh. Most of the organisational work was done by the formidable Laura, an experienced traveller from a diplomatic family. He rewarded this by fiercely resenting her competence, criticising her looks and complaining about her bossiness, although it’s clear he would have given up early if she hadn’t pushed him. Cambridge gives him money to pretend to care about handicrafts. Social networks of diplomatics and aristocrats wrote letters full of lies that smooth his way. Even while slumming it he had no empathy for the people for whom his temporary discomfort is a permanent condition. I was completely unsurprised to read his Wikipedia article afterwards and find out he is the son of a baronet and the grandson of an earl. The best thing I can say about this book is there is some self-awareness. After snidely decrying Laura’s taste for trashy novels when travelling, in comparison to his own elevated reading material, he gradually wondered why he was reading Dostoyevsky when he didn’t enjoy it, and gradually admitted that he would love an Agatha Christie after another long day on a Chinese train. He also admitted that his own Caucasian features seemed rather troll-like to the Uighurs. It’s subtle, but it’s possible to see that he might later lay aside the not-quite-ironic sneering and grow into the mature historian. I feel for the current Dalrymple having this earlier obnoxious self immortalised in print. I recommend his later books.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Lianne

    Because I am a fan of obscure literary travel memoirs, I picked up this book at a library book sale. It's an under-the-radar account of a Cambridge student's trip in the 1980's. William Dalrymple becomes obsessed with retracing the route of Marco Polo from Jerusalem to Xanadu, Kubla Khan's legendary palace. His mission is to take holy oil from the Church of the Holy Sepulcre, just as Marco Polo did, when he was deputized to deliver it to Kubla Khan. History claims that the Khan had contacts and Because I am a fan of obscure literary travel memoirs, I picked up this book at a library book sale. It's an under-the-radar account of a Cambridge student's trip in the 1980's. William Dalrymple becomes obsessed with retracing the route of Marco Polo from Jerusalem to Xanadu, Kubla Khan's legendary palace. His mission is to take holy oil from the Church of the Holy Sepulcre, just as Marco Polo did, when he was deputized to deliver it to Kubla Khan. History claims that the Khan had contacts and was a believer in Nestorian Christianity. This now heretical offshoot had penetrated into Asia, probably through Armenia. Dalrymple travels with two women: one as far as Lahore, the other the second half of the journey to the actual site of the ruins of the palace. The modern day adventure seems more dangerous than it may have been for Marco Polo who as a merchant traveled the then well supplied Silk Road with its caravanserai and inns. The trip is completed after the Iranian revolution but before the Soviet conflict in Afghanistan and before the border to China were more open. Much of the trip involves the physical deprivation of derelict buses and trucks lumbering their way through potholes and sandstorms. Dalrymple bungles his way through border checkpoints and tries to work around the requirements of special permits. Xanadu itself lies within a weapons development zone. With just hours remaining before he and his companion must catch their connections for their flight out of Peking, they do visit the actual site of Xanadu. It is an anticlimax but their trip is all about the journey they have endured rather than any romance of reaching their destination. Though uneven in its writing, Dalrymple includes interesting detail of everyday observation and encounters. Best for armchair travelers even before the Rough and Lonely Planet Guides were published

  23. 5 out of 5

    Varun

    In Xanadu, is funny in most parts, but also has loads of clumsy, non-sequitur and cultural misappropriation bits in significant measure. I had decided to pick up this book because, I wanted to read one of William Dalrymple's early works. Discovered, expectedly, that the writing was not as mature as, the otherwise brilliant author's recent works. Dalrymple calls people ugly, he ridicules local habits and cultures, he calls them idiotic and even questions the general level of intellect of some com In Xanadu, is funny in most parts, but also has loads of clumsy, non-sequitur and cultural misappropriation bits in significant measure. I had decided to pick up this book because, I wanted to read one of William Dalrymple's early works. Discovered, expectedly, that the writing was not as mature as, the otherwise brilliant author's recent works. Dalrymple calls people ugly, he ridicules local habits and cultures, he calls them idiotic and even questions the general level of intellect of some communities. Such writing, any author would probably not get away with as easily today. But those were the internet devoid days of 1989, and the book managed to get rave reviews and got numerous awards partly also because the author was merely 22 at the time, in my opinion. Overall In Xanadu manages to be entertaining and I never once doubted that I may not finish reading it. There is indeed something mysteriously alluring about the four month long mission, that the intrepid author and his companions took in tracing the journey of Marco Polo from Jerusalem to Xanadu in inner Mongolia. Any reader with a wanderlust will easily connect with the journey immediately, and would want the author to succeed in reaching Xanadu. It is this quality in the writing that also gives the book a feeling of being a travel-thriller and makes the pages turn rather swiftly. To be read to fully understand Dalrymple's body of work, but not to be taken too seriously.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Sarah Clay

    I love reading real life accounts of travel and adventure so I was excited that this came up on our book club reading list. I've never read any William Dalrymple before and saw the relatively high number of positive reviews by those who rated the book really highly. However, I fear saying this about such an accomplished writer/traveller, but I was disappointed. The trip and the tales told are epic and he really brings to life the people and the places. There's a lot of history and information to I love reading real life accounts of travel and adventure so I was excited that this came up on our book club reading list. I've never read any William Dalrymple before and saw the relatively high number of positive reviews by those who rated the book really highly. However, I fear saying this about such an accomplished writer/traveller, but I was disappointed. The trip and the tales told are epic and he really brings to life the people and the places. There's a lot of history and information to digest, alongside his own tales and those of Marco Polo as well as other travellers that had gone before. I think its the style of writing and level of detail that, for me, made the book hard going. I particularly found the large of amount of information and detail on the buildings and architecture and their history difficult and admit to skipping many of those bits!! Overall I may try some of his other travel accounts .....but I need a bit of a 'light' read first!

  25. 4 out of 5

    Rasha Lala

    This is probably his worst. Reading it felt like yet another narrative about a white man and his conquests. Demeaning and offensive stereotypes galore!

  26. 4 out of 5

    Prabhu Mazhavarayar

    Pretty disappointing. Took the book with all the reviews about the author. After reading this book , feel he is over rated . Waste of time .

  27. 4 out of 5

    Ahimsa

    This is a fine book, very enjoyable at times. The history is incorporated very well, the journey documented is fascinating and the captured bits of dialogue are unbelievably great. It’s far from flawless, however. To many times, Dalrymple relies on architectural details of sepulchers, arches, and tombs. There are very little of logistics here, which would be interesting: how big are their packs? What did they bring? How did they resupply? And almost nothing is said of the scenic Karakoram Highway This is a fine book, very enjoyable at times. The history is incorporated very well, the journey documented is fascinating and the captured bits of dialogue are unbelievably great. It’s far from flawless, however. To many times, Dalrymple relies on architectural details of sepulchers, arches, and tombs. There are very little of logistics here, which would be interesting: how big are their packs? What did they bring? How did they resupply? And almost nothing is said of the scenic Karakoram Highway. There’s a strange discomfort level. He seems to think that going to bed unshowered or being unable to order tea to his hotel room is genuine hardship, but frequently he really does encounter real sickness, discomfort, and bureaucratic nightmares. Worse is his classism and upper-class biases. Is there anyone who still thinks Oxford and Cambridge are actually superior schools? Then there’s a strong latent Christianity that a so-called educated man should be embarrassed to have. And his disdain for almost all the people and places he passes through surpasses mere xenophobia and reaches lows of puerile racism. (He suggests that Turkish women are so ugly that it has turned Turkish men gay, describes Iranians as effeminate, and there’s an overwhelming sense that Europeans=good/Asians=bad. Excerpts like this are far too common: “The Mongols were ugly and inquisitive…Lou suggested that they were all cousins and had interbred: that, certainly, would explain…their unusual stupidity….” He was really young when he wrote this, and perhaps the self-aggrandizement and racism were products of his youth. I’ll be happy to read more of his later stuff and see if he matured.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Patricia

    I'm surprised how much I liked this book. I first heard of it in the Epiphany sermon our priest gave at church, when he read from this book about the legendary birthplace of the Three Kings, as Dalrymple backpacked through Iran. The book, following in the footsteps of Marco Polo as he took oil from the lamp of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem to Xanadu, the lair built by Kubla Khan, is taken from his journal of the trip, and is alternatively horrifying, edifying and hilarious. He ca I'm surprised how much I liked this book. I first heard of it in the Epiphany sermon our priest gave at church, when he read from this book about the legendary birthplace of the Three Kings, as Dalrymple backpacked through Iran. The book, following in the footsteps of Marco Polo as he took oil from the lamp of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem to Xanadu, the lair built by Kubla Khan, is taken from his journal of the trip, and is alternatively horrifying, edifying and hilarious. He can laugh at himself in the most amazing and absurd situations. Best of all, as he travels, he reads ancient historians and shares their insights with us. I learned a lot reading this book, and I am glad I read it. I plan to read the next one starting soon.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Harshad Sharma

    This was amazing. William Hamilton Dalrymple is a champion of travel writing, his first book In Xanadu is full of beautiful places, his prose is already wonderful, his excitement at re-discovering the places Marco Polo visited during his journey from Jerusalem to Kublai Khan's summer palace Xanadu is contagious. As always, full of funny snippets, finding amazing and eccentric people in Syria, Iran, Pakistan, roaming under the threat of deportation and staying ahead of police in China, this is a This was amazing. William Hamilton Dalrymple is a champion of travel writing, his first book In Xanadu is full of beautiful places, his prose is already wonderful, his excitement at re-discovering the places Marco Polo visited during his journey from Jerusalem to Kublai Khan's summer palace Xanadu is contagious. As always, full of funny snippets, finding amazing and eccentric people in Syria, Iran, Pakistan, roaming under the threat of deportation and staying ahead of police in China, this is a wonderful, wonderful book.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Kenny

    He was a precocious wee sod was young William Dalrymple - while everyone else whiled away their uni summers working and saving for a short trip somewhere - anywhere - he decided to follow in Marco Polo's footsteps from Jerusalem to Mongolia. I've read other books he's written, and he's a top class author - and appears thoroughly nice bloke too. It's a class thing for those types it seems. He's of good stock and he travels the first half with Laura (related or on first name terms with various sen He was a precocious wee sod was young William Dalrymple - while everyone else whiled away their uni summers working and saving for a short trip somewhere - anywhere - he decided to follow in Marco Polo's footsteps from Jerusalem to Mongolia. I've read other books he's written, and he's a top class author - and appears thoroughly nice bloke too. It's a class thing for those types it seems. He's of good stock and he travels the first half with Laura (related or on first name terms with various senior pillars of the establishment, and not just in the UK - turns out she ended up head of Marks and Spencer) and Dalrymple has a great deal of fun recanting her 'force of nature' upper class English encounters with various foreigners along the way - while keeping a great deal of affection in his writing and maintaining the balance between exasperation, amusement with and at this companion. In the second half he has his by-now-ex Louise along - and handles this deftly too - giving enough of the potential awkwardness, and not mulling on the challenges of travelling with someone who dumped him a couple of months earlier for another bloke. What brings him straight in to the premier league of travel writers was the ability to match the current day, with immensely readable history of the country and location. Throughout, his passions for the two do come through, and there's a great degree of skill in providing the 'right' history to link with what he's seeing in his travels rather than 'all' the history regardless. Sometimes less is more here, and it's well paced and fairly succinct. As I say, a precocious young bugger, but a hell of a talent, and good on him. Now he's a grown up, he's a hisotrian more than travel writer, which is good for history, less good for travel writing.

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