IN XANADU by William Dalyrimple

On my “top twelve favourite books” post I mention that my favourite non-fiction book is Lost World of the Kalahari by Laurens van der Post, and I comment there that In Xanadu had been recommended to me by an old friend as a contender.  So I picked up a copy in Borders in Glasgow the other day, and set about reading it with some curiosity: my friend is not noted for heaping praise on books that he’s read.
   So what was the outcome?  Does In Xanadu replace Lost World of the Kalahari at the top of my non-fiction list?
   The answer is no; but nevertheless it is a good book.  It tells the story of a young man retracing the steps of Marco Polo on a shoestring budget and a fine disregard for possible dangers.  Willian Dalyrimple describes the places he visits very clearly; he analyses some of his discoveries in what seems to be to be a logical fashion (but I am nothing but a casual reader); and he has a fine eye for the ridiculous, which springs to life in a host of humorous situations and conversations throughout the book.  No matter that the source of the humour is a little one dimensional (almost all of it relies on foreign perceptions of western civilisation in general and the English in particular).  It still made me laugh.  And I still found it fascinating to read about the places he visited (with two different girlfriends – for reasons which you’ll have to read the book to discover).
   Yes, I can recommend the book.  It’s clever and funny, and talks about places and ways of life vastly different from those here in the UK.  But Lost World of the Kalahari remains obstinately the only non-fiction book in my top twelve favourite reads.
add comment | read comments (0) 2009-09-01