Everything bar the Chopsticks

T.H. Barrett

In the middle of this century, a family tracing its descent from a friend of Marco Polo revealed in the journal Imago Mundi that it possessed ancient maps of Asia bearing annotation in Chinese which purported to derive from the great explorer himself. Unfortunately, that annotation, in a crabbed European imitation of a Chinese hand, includes a phrase corresponding exactly to our ‘terra incognita’, a label unknown to Chinese cartography. David Selbourne was probably unaware of these fakes when he embarked on his translation of the text he now entitles The City of Light, but it is worth pointing them out, just to make clear that the notion that Italian manuscripts concerning medieval Asian travel might be forged is not unthinkable. And there is no question that we shall have to class The City of Light as historical fiction, because it does not derive from a genuine source.

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