Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page 54.
- Review Date: 2008-11-03
- Reviewer: Staff
The harrowing route of Marco Polo's 13th-century trek from Venice to ancient Cathay over the traditional Silk Road to Kublai Khan's territories consumed 24 years of the famous explorer's life. Award-winning photographer Belliveau and sculptor/lecturer O'Donnell, a former marine, spent two years retracing the journey,, to “[t]raverse the world's largest land mass and back, climb its highest mountains, cross its most desolate deserts and seas.” The curious, intrepid risk-takers forgo air travel to recreate the 25,000-mile experience, facing rolls of red tape, internecine politics, horrendous climates, language barriers, civil war and border authorities while traveling through what is now Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Tibet, China and Mongolia, among others. The authors have a remarkable ability to form relationships in varied cultures, as with a group of rough Afghan soldiers: “All had in common... losses so terrible that we had stopped asking questions about families.” Fascinatingly, many of the customs, locales and physical landscapes are identical, 700 years later, to Polo's descriptions. Alongside Belliveau and O'Donnell's enthusiastic narrative are marvelous full-color photos that bring the travelogue to vivid life. (Dec.)
Following the leader
Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote "Kubla Kahn," his most rapturous poem, in an opium-induced stupor: "In Xanadu did Kubla Kahn/A stately pleasure dome decree." Coleridge was responding to the fantastic descriptions of the Kahn's court recorded in the 13th-century Travels of Marco Polo, a narrative which has inspired countless artists over the past 700 years because of its literally incredible accounts of the intrepid Marco's travels from Venice to China and back.
In Denis Belliveau and Francis O'Donnell's new travelogue/photographic essay, In the Footsteps of Marco Polo, we are given stunning proof of Marco Polo's essential veracity, for the geographic realities and enduring ethnographic facts overwhelm any doubt. The illustrated chronicle of the authors' two-year, 25,000-mile, 20-country expedition in Marco's footsteps surpasses in sheer strangeness anything that Coleridge could have imagined, whether tripped out or sober. On almost every page, we discover that Marco's anxious assurances (shown here in scriptural red) that what he implausibly reports is real and actual, pale in comparison to the authors' own death-defying exploits, all of them corroborated by beautiful and disturbing photographs.
Belliveau and O'Donnell took the trip 15 years ago (it has taken that long to get a book and PBS film deal), so they have had ample time to digest and interpret their adventures with wisdom and renewed wonder. They reflect poignantly on the timeless nature of the many Asian cultures they encountered, so many of them threatened by endless conflict. In order to follow Polo's route, the authors had to travel through eight war zones and were very nearly killed on several occasions. When what you experience exceeds what you can imagine, the physical and spiritual costs can be very high. Is it worth it? Get this book, go along for the wild ride, and see for yourself.