Marco Polo: From Venice to Xanadu

Marco Polo came of age in a city of night edging toward dawn; it was opaque, secretive and rife with transgressions and superstitions. This description of Polo's native Venice, from Laurence Bergreen's vivid biography of the famous 13th-century traveler, is as romantic as any inspired by that fabled city. And it's in keeping with the book's emphasis on the exhilarating spectacle of Marco Polo's breakthrough travels. Not that there's any lack of detail about the restless career of the man himself, which truly began when his ambitious father took him thousands of miles to offer young Marco up as human tribute to the Mongol emperor Kublai Khan. But the heart of the book is in the profusion of magnificent episodes: the dangers of the Silk Road, the battle scenes (elephants vs. mounted archers), and the legendary grandeur of Kublai's palace. Indeed, "legendary" is a key concept here: as Bergreen notes, the further into Asia Polo traveled, the more his reports on his destination verged on the fabulous. Luckily, for readers of this entertaining and richly detailed portrait, the pleasure is all in the journey itself. -

April 23: " 'A job,' the woman repeated again, smiling, as if I hadn't heard her. 'Would you like one?' "

Kenneth Calhoun (Black Moon) and Lysely Tenorio (Monstress) of the Discover Great New Writers program on B-movies, heritage, and finales.

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Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
A Private Venus

Dubbed "the Italian Simenon," Giorgio Scerbanenco (1911-1969) began his crime-writing career with books set in the USA, but quickly shifted scene closer to home, the city of Milan.  In this adventure, appearing in English for the first time, his underdog hero Dr. Duca Lamberti finds himself in the middle of a seedy, scantily clad criminal racket, where the presence of an outsider could result in death.

The Promise of Hope

Killed last year in the infamous terror attack at Nairobi's Westgate mall, Kofi Awoonor was a national treasure in his native Ghana.  His career began in 1964 with Rediscovery, and this magnum opus serves as a tribute to his entire long journey charting his beloved nation's course through his accomplished poetry.

Winter Mythologies and Abbots

A pair of linked stories finds that, as translator Ann Jefferson relates, "[Pierre] Michon's great theme is the precarious balance between belief and imposture, and the way the greatest aspirations can be complicated by physical desire or the equally urgent desire for what he calls glory."