I stumbled over The Travels of Marco Polo almost by accident. If you’d asked me, I would have stated my intention of reading it someday, but whenever I’m off buying books, I never seem to think of it.
But a friend was clearing out her library (she said that, at eighty, there are a few books in there she probably won’t read again), and this was one of the ones she gifted me.
The Barnes & Noble edition I received is a hefty book, coming in at around 600 pages, of which 400 is the actual text of the book. The fact that you have 200 pages of end notes tells you a bit about the edition: it’s a heavily annotated and explained version, with every place name and custom given a clarification.
But that doesn’t tell you everything. This is a reprint of an early 20th-century edition, doesn’t affect the main text–it’s a very good translation–but the end notes refer to place names that are no longer recognizable, uses other medieval travelers as corroborative evidence and treats much of Asia as terra incognita. It’s probably a wonderful resource for comparative cartographers, but not for a general reader. In the end, I only used the end notes to try to figure out where in Asia Marco was at any given time (this is not easy sometimes, solely from the notes).
But that puzzling editorial oddity (I’m pretty sure there are modernized editions out there, but maybe B&N didn’t want to pay copyright fees on an eight hundred year old classic) aside, this is a wonderful book. Marco’s look at cultures, peoples and places is marvelous. Of course, some of it is apocryphal hearsay and all of it is affected by his medieval preconceptions… but it reads in a surprisingly modern way (the end notes are much more arcane in text style).
My entire conception of the world east of Constantinople during the reign of Kublai Khan was modified… and, unless your a scholar or enthusiast of non-European medieval cultures, I would bet yours will change as well.
Definitely worth the read. You’ll be transported to a place that was wondrous and a time where if something seemed magical, you were permitted to believe it was. A wonderful follow-up to the Shackleton book.
Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer from Argentina. He loves spending time (real or imaginary) in faraway places, which is why he eventually ended up with enough published stories for a collection of tales set outside of European or US settings. Off the Beaten Path is a wondrous journey to the far corners of the globe, and you can check it out here.