Book Reviews

30 novembro, 2007

164) Um viajante que precedeu Marco Polo na China

The City Of Light
by Jacob D'Ancona (Author)
# Paperback: 576 pages
# Publisher: Citadel (March 1, 2003)
# Language: English
# ISBN-10: 0806524634
# ISBN-13: 978-0806524634
# Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6 x 1.5 inches
# Also Available in: Hardcover (New Ed) | All Editions

Editorial Reviews
Book Description
In 1270 a scholarly Jewish merchant called Jacob d'Ancona set out on a voyage from Italy. A year later, he arrived in China at the coastal metropolis of Zaitun, the "City of Light" (now known as Quanzhou), four years before Marco Polo arrived at Xanadu in 1275. Nothing was known of this epochal journey until 1990, when David Selbourne was shown d'Ancona's account of his travels, a remarkable manuscript that had been hidden from public view for more than seven centuries. Eventually translated and edited by Selbourne and published in Great Britain in October 1997 as The City of Light, the account was praised as providing an unparalleled insight into life in the medieval world.

Controversy followed. Selbourne had pledged to the manuscript's owner that he would not reveal its whereabouts, and that raised doubts about its authenticity. As a result of U.S. sinologists' criticism of plans for American publication, the first edition was canceled.

Now, a year later, Birch Lane Press happily publishes the controversial work. Criticisms of the textual evidence of d'Ancona's account have been answered by Selbourne. Most notably, other academics--particularly and significantly, in China--have come to the support of d'Ancona's account. The work is to be published in a Chinese translation.

Vivid and insightful, this account has great historical significance. It not only describes the adventures of a medieval trader, but also comments on Chinese society and manners through the eyes of a European man of learning. The City of Light brings spectacularly to life d'Ancona's encounter with one of the world's great civilizations. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Language Notes
Text: English (translation)
Original Language: Italian --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


8 of 8 people found the following review helpful:
2.0 out of 5 stars Boring!, August 3, 2001
By Ramesh Gopal (Granger, IN United States)
This review is from: The City Of Light: The Hidden Journal of the Man Who Entered China Four Years Before Marco Polo (Hardcover)
In a word: BORING! This book would have been twice as good were it half as long. Selbourne has cut the end and would have done well to cut the middle as well. Jacob's incessant protestations of piety are tedious. He hypocritically condemns everyone around him for greed and self-interest but his own actions, though ostensibly high-minded, are also dictated almost solely by financial motives. For this reason his criticism of others rings hollow. His world view is remarkably narrow and parochial for someone so widely traveled. While he makes extensive observations of the conduct of others, there is no effort to appreciate their viewpoints. I am also skeptical of the provenance of this book. The social debates described have a very contemporary tenor and are relevant to our own times. If this were in fact an authenticated manuscript, this resonance would be remarkable. However, the provenance of the book is in dispute and much space is devoted to supporting its authenticity. The resolution of this issue must await examination of the original manuscript but in the meantime I am skeptical because the discussions seem too modern.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful:
5.0 out of 5 stars Ian Myles Slater on: A Remarkable Book, as Memoir or Fiction, October 16, 2003
By Ian M. Slater "aylchanan" (Los Angeles, CA United States)
I am glad to see that the (delayed) American edition of this book is now in paperback. It differs from the UK edition (which I have also reviewed) mainly by including "Remarks on The City of Light " by Wang Lianmao, in which modern Chinese scholarship is used to reply to some of the criticism directed against it by Westerners. Specialists in the history of the region find some puzzles, and probable errors made by a foreigner, but nothing to suggest a modern fraud. They seem willing to accept it as an authentic account of southern China by a foreigner, describing events shortly before the arrival of Marco Polo in the following of the Mongol (Yuan) conqueror. (Probably wisely, they do not seem to have offered an opinion on how authentic the foreigner -- an Italian Jew -- looks to them.)

Curiously, Frances Wood, whose "Did Marco Polo Go to China?" argues that the Venetian merchant stayed in western Asia, and got all his information from others, who left no record of their adventures, seems to have joined in denouncing Jacob of Ancona as a fabrication, even though this must have seemed like manna from heaven for her theory. (By the way, it seems clear to me that, despite various major and minor interpolations and deletions in the manuscript tradition, Marco Polo did travel in East Asia -- so maybe I'm gullible.)

I would add, from my own cursory research, that I have some problems with the supposedly convincing argument that the use of the term "mellah" for "Jewish Quarter" in Muslim lands is anachronistic. This argument depends on accepting one version of the etymology and history of the word. It is, however, less than completely certain; Roger Le Tourneau, in "Fez in the Age of the Marinides" (English translation 1961), reviewed the complicated evidence, and suggested that the consensus, including how long the word was in use and when and where it was adopted, might be wrong.

From a Jewish perspective, I can accept Jacob of Ancona as a plausible figure (and perhaps more typical than Selbourne, to judge from his notes, realizes). The combination of length and literary quality in a memoir seems unusual for the period, but the translator reports omitting some sections at the end, and felicitous translation can add charm without being unfaithful. Some medieval writings *are* inordinately long -- and long-winded.

Jaob's report of debates with Chinese officials leaves me wondering if both his contacts and his discussions were really on such a high level (especially with both sides using some sort of "trade speech" and translators), but self-congratulatory memoirs are not a modern invention.

On the basis of Chinese reactions, I am prepared to accept the work as authentic, although not completely reliable as a record of fact (is anything?). If it is a fraud -- and only an examination of the manuscript seems likely to prove it -- its creator would surely have been better rewarded by emulating Eco's "Name of the Rose," and publishing it as historical fiction of a high order.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful:
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent., April 11, 2002
By A. J. Watson "Bones" (Newcastle-on-Tyne, UK)
This review is from: The City Of Light: The Hidden Journal of the Man Who Entered China Four Years Before Marco Polo (Hardcover)
OK, nobody else has seen the original, so there's no way of verifying if this is a true translation or a hoax. If it is a hoax, it's a danmed good one, written so well, with lots of research to back it up, that I for one don't care.
This is just brilliant, true or hoax, it gives a deep insight into the Jewish support network and all the opposition & prejudice that Jews had to deal with.
It knocks Marco Polo's account into a cocked hat; incisive philosophy, intimate desriptions of mediaeval life and trade are enough to grant this a place on anyone's bookshelf, true or not.

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
3.0 out of 5 stars many indications that this is largely a 20th Century work, May 26, 2004
By A Customer
This volume starts out as a plausable enough chronicle of a Jewish merchant from Italy who travels to China and so on, but very quickly it becomes apparent that this is just the setting for a series of philosophical debates that the merchant partakes in with other groups in the "City of Light".

It is written like no other narrative from the past I have seen and is quite long as well. Although I am no expert on that time and place, and there are none who truly are, what really makes it suspect is the fact that most of the work fails to give details of how people lived and what things were like at that time and place and instead concentrates on the dialogues that he is invited to and partakes in. And all of the matters that they discuss are those that would preoccupy the mind of a person in the late 20th Century. Which either means that people in the 13th Century had identical problems to those we have today, or that this was written by someone in the late 20th Century. He even forsees the Holocaust at one point.

There is nothing that would secure it as authentic and many indications that this is largely a 20th Century work, enough to make it well accepted as a forgery until proven otherwise (which I never expect to happen). As for what it contains and the value of its philosophical debates, it offers nothing in the way of secure arguments, unless you already accept the Jewish religious teachings as a source of unchallenged wisdom. It also was rather long without adding much. It might have been better to publish this as a modern philosophical novel, which would have permitted it to be a better novel, without attempting to mislead scholars, that can cause trouble for years. Although I realize that from a publishing standpoint, it gets more attention to claim authenticity.

Also, he (Selbourne) clips off the return journey, which might have been one of the only authentic parts in the book. I paid full price for this book when it was first published and I consider it was not worth it.