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In Xanadu: A Quest

4.01  ·  Rating details ·  3,307 ratings  ·  224 reviews
While waiting for the results of his college exams, William Dalrymple decides to fill in his summer break with a trip. But the vacation he plans is no light-hearted student jaunt - he decides to retrace the epic journey of Marco Polo from Jerusalem to Xanadu, the ruined palace of Kubla Khan, north of Peking. For the first half of the trip he is accompanied by Laura, whom h ...more
Paperback, 319 pages
Published April 1st 2000 by Lonely Planet Publications (first published 1989)
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Aug 08, 2011 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Feb 26, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
---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 ...more
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 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.

Aug 16, 2011 rated it liked it
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
The Tick
Feb 17, 2011 rated it did not like it
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.
Dec 18, 2017 rated it liked it
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
May 11, 2013 added it
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 ...more
Apr 16, 2013 rated it liked it
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
Mar 19, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 5-star-books
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 ...more
Harshad Sharma
Oct 26, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: hist-nonfiction
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
Sandeep M.Ratkal
Feb 28, 2019 rated it did not like it
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. ...more
Richard Evert
Jul 28, 2015 rated it did not like it
Dalrymple is a gifted writer, but I soon tired of his acerbic takedowns of the locals.
Feb 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Pooja Pimputkar
Retracing the footsteps of a legendary traveler of the silk route is an ambitious project for a 22-year-old undergraduate. William Dalrymple not only pulled off the travel part, but also managed to write a captivating account of this mad journey. Dizzying diversity of cultures, peoples, religious sects and places in this book makes it a little tedious read if you are not familiar with them beforehand. A fascinating introduction to history of middle-east nonetheless. Also, could not get enough of ...more
Feb 01, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: journeys
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 ...more
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
Anshul Gaurav
Feb 13, 2012 rated it liked it
In 1269, a 17 year old Venetian merchant, his father and his uncle embarked on an epic journey to the east corner of Asia. They were set upon meeting the then Mongol king Kublai Khan, the grandson of the great Genghis Khan himself.  They needed his support in order to protect the Christian lands from conquerors.  His name was Marco Polo. They travelled about 24000 Kms. Just to give you an idea the circumference of the earth is about 1.6 times that figure. Marco later documented his travels in a ...more
Aug 20, 2019 rated it it was ok
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.
Oct 25, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, travel
William Dalrymple retraces and chronicles Marco Polo's 13th Century travels from Jerusalem to the fabled Xanadu in China (actually Shangdu, Kublai Khan's summer capital) along with two fellow students in In Xanadu.

Dalrymple was only 21 when he carried out this epic journey, still studying history at Cambridge (his university ID card got him out of many a sticky situation while in Asia). In Xanadu poses as an irreverent travel book --complete with funny anecdotes about muscular hotel managers, ma
Avinash Gupta
Dec 27, 2013 rated it really liked 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 a ...more
Jul 14, 2011 rated it it was ok
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 ...more
Oct 23, 2016 rated it really liked it
Hilarious, irreverent, scholarly, and vivid account of the author's epic journey across Asia on the Silk Road, in the footsteps of Marco Polo. William Dalrymple's first book (I'd previously read, and loved FROM THE HOLY MOUNTAIN) was written in the late 80s, when was still difficult to get into China and large parts the country were off limits. No doubt it would be just as dangerous to follow the same path today, just in different areas.

Content warning - not recommended for younger readers.
Brian Wright
Feb 07, 2014 rated it it was ok
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
Rohit Walavalkar
Dec 15, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: incomplete
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.
Apr 09, 2011 rated it it was ok
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.
Sonia Gomes
Sep 05, 2012 rated it liked it
Very nice idea in the first place following in the footsteps of the legendary Marco Polo. For a twenty one year old to have accomplished it was amazing. The unbelievable part were the two girls who accompanied him. Would I have been so brave at 21; Doubt it.
Jonathan Haines
Apr 29, 2013 rated it it was ok
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 by Larissa & Cas but loathed by everyone else - so only 2 stars..... ...more
Dec 22, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2015
I couldn't have found a better book to end the year with. A most brilliant read.
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William Dalrymple was born in Scotland and brought up on the shores of the Firth of Forth. He wrote the highly acclaimed bestseller In Xanadu when he was twenty-two. The book won the 1990 Yorkshire Post Best First Work Award and a Scottish Arts Council Spring Book Award; it was also shortlisted for the John Llewellyn Rhys Memorial Prize.

In 1989 Dalrymple moved to Delhi where he lived for six years

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