I am about to embark on something so colossal and terrifying that taking even the first step feels utterly preposterous. I’m talking about the attempt to take several years of my life, untangle the knotted stories, and reassemble them into hundreds of thousands of words in between a front and a back cover — which a total stranger will later be sufficiently moved to read.
While I was travelling through Europe, people would sometimes smile and jokingly pass reference to Marco Polo, the medieval Italian merchant who brought home epic tales of Asia, now immortalised as one of history’s great adventurers, and whose experiences neither I nor anyone else stand the slightest chance of recreating in today’s world.
While I was travelling through the Middle East, people would sometimes smile and jokingly pass reference to another man, named Ibn Battuta. I’d never heard of Ibn Battuta. Some of my readers will have, but nothing like as many as who will have heard of Marco Polo.