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In Xanadu: A Quest by William Dalrymple

In Xanadu: A Quest (original 1989; edition 2000)

by William Dalrymple

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5281019,108 (3.82)28
Title:In Xanadu: A Quest
Authors:William Dalrymple
Info:Lonely Planet Publications (2000), Paperback, 319 pages
Collections:Your library

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In Xanadu: A Quest by William Dalrymple (1989)

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    Tracking Marco Polo by Timothy Severin (nandadevi)
    nandadevi: Dalrymple got through to China in 1987 where Severin could not in 1961. Both wrote (and travelled) with the energy (and flaws) of youth. Both improved considerably as authors and travellers later in life.

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Right off the bat I have to say I love an author who uses the word "churlish." I could tell In Xanadu was going to be a crazy ride when he apologizes in his dedication (who does that?). William Dalrymple takes us on a journey from Lebanon to Inner Mongolia, following the historic path of Marco Polo (Travels). Dalrymple's ultimate goal is to reach the famed palace of Xanadu, of Coleridge's "Kubla Khan" fame. For the first half of his expedition he is accompanied by savvy traveler, Laura. The extraordinary thing is he met her at a dinner party just a few weeks before his departure. She just invited herself along because that's the type of person she is. From the way Dalrymple describes her, he sounds a little afraid of her. The second half of his journey is with newly ex-girlfriend, Laura. While not as fierce as Laura, Louisa has endearing qualities all her own. I don't think I will spoil it for anyone when I say they do make it to Xanadu, despite many mishaps along the way. ( )
  SeriousGrace | Jan 27, 2015 |
This was Dalrymple’s first book, describing his journey “in the footsteps of Marco Polo” from Jerusalem to the site of Kublai Khan’s summer capital in Inner Mongolia, made during the Long Vacation of 1986, whilst Dalrymple was still an undergraduate in Cambridge. The journey was prompted largely by hearing of the opening of the Karakoram Highway and realising that it might now be possible for foreigners to travel overland from Pakistan to Sinkiang. And I think that's the clue to a slight weakness in the book: unlike his strong interaction with John Moschos in From the Holy Mountain, Dalrymple doesn't display any particular affection for the alleged source text. If anything, he makes it clear that he's rather bored with Polo, whose book he characterises as a 13th century business travel handbook to Central Asia.

What the book is really about is the process of travel, as experienced in a succession of accidents by a slightly naive young man bumbling across Asia (accompanied by a comically forceful young woman as far as Lahore, and a different, comically feeble one thereafter: neither of them appears to have brought a dulcimer along). This is always interesting and entertaining - Dalrymple is definitely a good writer, even in his early twenties, and the journey itself is a bold and enterprising one - but there's probably a bit too much of the Robert Byrons about it. Albeit without Byron’s aggressive nastiness - when Dalrymple makes fun of the locals, he always makes sure that he makes himself look even more foolish than they. ( )
  thorold | May 20, 2014 |
Malti in his review says it very well. It is interesting to note that in 1961 Tim Severin (‘Tracking Marco Polo’) trod the same path followed by Dalrymple in 1987. Both were in their early twenties, and in both cases their writing and journeying shows tremendous energy, but also a certain thoughtlessness characteristic of somewhat privileged youth (think Oxford and Cambridge Universities). To their credit it is the honesty of their accounts that shows them in such a bad light. Both became much better writers and journeyers later in life. Dalrymple got a little further along the trail of Marco Polo than Severin, and wrote a more substantial book out of it. However, this is certainly a ‘lesser’ work of Dalrymple’s and best sampled after reading some of his later works (and Severin’s ‘Tracking Marco Polo’), all of which may put you more in mind to overlook its (and his) youthful failings. ( )
  nandadevi | Mar 18, 2012 |
A Dalrymple book does not disappoint. Especially not his first publication, at the age of 22. To someone who loves travel, writing and adventure, Dalrymple's life on the road seems like out of a fairy tale. For two college students to be able to set out on a journey from England to Jerusalem, follow the Silk Route all the way up to China, on a budget of merely 700 pounds, seems to me to be a mixture of fond hope and absolute madness. But it works. This is more than just the tale of some hippies who want to backpack around the subcontinent. William and his companion (first Laura, then Louisa) are serious students of history, whose travel Bibles are the Travels of Marco Polo and other (more obscure) works about travel in Asia rather than Lonely Planet guides. Though William has visited the subcontinent before, he learns valuable lessons in cross-border travel (namely, how to go undetected while crossing borders illegally), bribe-giving and favour-taking, and cultural norms. Nor does he disguise his complete lack of appreciation of certain places. He is honest about his crankiness at hindrances such as boring, lifeless towns, cross-border tactics and the people he has to trust with them, miles and miles of never ending desert, lack of colour, food and sleep. His relief when he leaves the Afghan landscape to enter into Pakistan is palpable, and he does not hold back words. He is glad of the noise, colour and relative freedom the subcontinent brings him, after days of dreariness and having to watch his back. All that, however, does not stop him from admiring the architectural wonders he finds in Jerusalem, Turkey, Syria, etc. Towards the end of his journey, the pages are turned faster, only because he is being hounded by the police for entering into forbidden areas of China illegally. The book, I thought, ends too soon, but the pace fits the events and the stress of rushing the last few days. This book displays the author's lack of maturity when it comes to describing certain things or dismissing certain others, a tendency he has refined in his later, more researched works. But what comes through in all of his works, as I see it, is an unapologetic honesty. Never mind what he says in irritability of dry, desert-like landscape. One of the most outstanding observations comes while he is in Jerusalem, and only he has the guts to make it: "The Holy City has had more atrocities committed in it, more consistently, than any other town in the world. Sacred to three religions, the city has witnessed the worst intolerance and self-righteousness of all of them." ( )
2 vote milti | Dec 14, 2011 |
Author shows little insight into the lives of the people he meets on his journey. ( )
  lsmunroe | Apr 15, 2007 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0006544150, Paperback)

One of the most successful, influential and acclaimed travel books of recent years. At the age of twenty-two, William Dalrymple left his college in Cambridge to travel to the ruins of Kublai Khan's stately pleasure dome in Xanadu. This is an account of a quest which took him and his companions across the width of Asia, along dusty, forgotten roads, through villages and cities full of unexpected hospitality and wildly improbable escapades, to Coleridge's Xanadu itself. At once funny and knowledgeable, In Xanadu is in the finest tradition of British travel writing. Told with an exhilarating blend of eloquence, wit, poetry and delight, it is already established as a classic of its kind.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:52:16 -0400)

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