Marco Polo appeals to me because he was the first person from the West to write about China. Yet many of his readers back home were skeptical; they did not believe him when he described the wealth and wonders he had seen. As a U.S. foreign correspondent, I spent many years writing about China, and I found that my readers, like Marco Polo’s, didn’t understand or ‘get’ a lot of what I observed in China. Like Marco, I tried to build a bridge between East and West, enhancing understanding.
My husband first suggested I write about Marco Polo. But Marco Polo’s viewpoint, the white male perspective on history, is one we Americans already find familiar. So I decided to turn history on its head, to tell the story as seen through the eyes of an Asian woman. I tried to imagine: What did Marco Polo look like to her? What did she think when he described his homeland, Europe, to her? How did their values differ? How did she change when exposed to his perspective? And how did he change, after meeting her?
Europeans and Americans traditionally have viewed the Mongols as barbarian invaders. That is the way the Russians and Poles and Hungarians experienced them in the 13th century. But to Mongolians, those Mongol hordes under Genghis Khan were heroes, brave soldiers with brilliant military tactics, able to outsmart and outfight armies from nations far bigger and more literate. History looks different if it is told by the victors or the vanquished.
I traveled a lot to research this book: to China, to Mongolia, to the Silk Road. In Khanbalik, now known as Beijing, I found segments of the old Mongol city wall. In Carajan, now called Yunnan, I visited three pagodas that were there when Marco Polo visited. I walked through a Buddhist monastery built on the site of Karakorum, the first capital of the Mongol Empire. I found a memorial built to Genghis Khan, where worshippers burn incense to honor him. And I found, most amazing of all, the ruins of Xanadu, the summer palace of Khubilai Khan, in the grasslands of Inner Mongolia, north of Beijing. All that remains of that glorious palace and gardens are crumbling stone walls and meadows of wildflowers; but Xanadu was real.
Book Description: Athletic and strong willed, Princess Emmajin is determined to do what no woman has done before: become a warrior in the army of her grandfather, the Great Khan Khubilai. In the Mongol world the only way to achieve respect is to show bravery and win glory on the battlefield.
FAQ: Marco Polo was a famous explorer, right? Not exactly. Most teachers include him with the famous Europeans who explored the world. But Marco just tagged along with his dad and uncle, when they went back to China for their second trip there. He was a teenager when he left his home of Venice, and he probably didn’t expect he’d be 41 by the time he came home!