I’ve been watching this thread and as no-one seems to want to be the first, I thought I’d do it. Kay you mentioned something about reviewing expat books. Quite a few years ago (about 15 I think!) I read an excellent book called “A Year in Provence” which was very popular at the time. I had a copy which I can’t find, probably lent it to someone and didn’t get it back, and I can’t remember who wrote it. It’s written by a Brit who gives up his job and sells everything to go and live in Provence in an old house which he and his wife spend a year renovating. It’s a very funny blog about the situations they get into, discoveries they make along the way and people they meet and how they deal with the influx of unwanted visitors looking for a cheap holiday in France!
OK, this is my offering. It’s a non-fiction which deals with what’s become quite a controversial subject.
1421 (The Year China Discovered the World) by Gavin Menzies.
The author is a retired Royal Navy Submarine Commanding Officer who was born in China in 1937 and where he spent the first two years of his life. He’s well equipped to have written this book having sailed the world in the wake of Columbus, Dias, Cabral and Vasco de Gama, Magellan and Captain Cook. When he retired he seriously took up what had always been a hobby, namely medieval history and in particular the maps and charts of early explorers.
His story started when he stumbled upon an incredible discovery, a clue hidden in an ancient map which suggested that the history of the world as it has been known and handed down for centuries would have to radically revised. After fifteen years of research, he finally wrote this book putting forward his theories and evidence that the famous “discoverers” were only using maps already drawn up by the Chinese a good few years before them.
“On 8 March 1421, the largest fleet the world had ever seen set sail from China. The ships, some nearly five hundred feet long, were under the command of Emperor Zhu Di’s loyal eunuch admirals. Their orders were “to proceed all the way to the end of the earth”.”
During this epic voyage, various ships and their crews had to be abandoned along the way for various reasons, in theory to be picked up again at a later date. This never happened for reasons explained in the book and Gavin Menzies uses persuasive evidence to support his theories – ancient maps, precise navigational knowledge, astronomy, surviving accounts of Chinese explorers and later European navigators as well as the traces the fleet left behind. (Edit - For example, some of the evidence showing links between the Incas and China - (Apart from DNA reports showing links) "Peru" is a Chinese name, villagers of Eten and Monsefu understood Chinese until a century ago, nearly 100 Peruvian villages have Chinese names, first British colonists saw wild elephants on the Ecuador/Colombia border, Friar Antonio de la Calancha found pictures of Chinese cavalry, Chinese body found emtombed at Trujllo, Peru shown on maps before Europeans arrived there, Chinese chickens found the length of Peru, coconuts and bananas (indigenous to SE Asia) found by first Europeans, Inca pottery with Chinese calligraphy, folklore links to Chinese folklore and divination ceremonies)
Since his book was published in 2002, and recently revised to include new findings, his theories are being taken ever more seriously but will we have the courage to admit he’s right at the cost of demoting our great explorers to the lesser ranks?
Weighing in at a mere 629 pages (including Appendixes and Notes), I personally got bored about half way through which frustrated me no-end. I felt like I was missing out on the fascinating stuff included in the rest of the book but as a curious onlooker, I just couldn't muster up the necessary strength to carry on! Gavin Menzies had already convinced me of his theory well before the half-way mark so I found the continuous show of proofs, etc., rather tedious. I'm sure he would have been capable of proving his point to a non-academic audience in half the number of pages. There are quite a lot of very nice photos and diagrams and reproductions of ancient maps which are fascinating. He's included quite a lot of technical stuff about astronomy, navigating, eclipses, DNA, etc. Perhaps if I had a more serious interest in the subject, I'd have been able to finish the book.
I'd recommend the book to anyone who's interested in ancient sea travel and exploration. There's also quite a lot of interesting historical info about China and the way of life at the time. Not light reading but extremely interesting and it's not an expensive book so even if you don't manage to get through the whole book, I think it's worth having just to be able to refer back to when (if) necessary.