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From The Asian Reporter, V21, #16 (August 15, 2011), page 15.
Daughter of Xanadu is a thrilling tale of cross-cultural romance and adventure
Daughter of Xanadu
By Dori Jones Yang
Delacorte Press, 2011
Hardcover, 352 pages, $17.99
By Sarah Eadie
The Asian Reporter
Over the 10 years of writing and rewriting Daughter of Xanadu, author Dori Jones Yang questioned what Marco Polo would look like from a female Asian perspective. Polo must certainly have had a lover during his time at the Mongol court — what was she like? These questions led to the development of protagonist princess Emmajin’s character — the female foil to Polo’s romantic, peace-loving western tendencies.
Yang’s book explores themes of war, gender, and otherness in a story about a headstrong princess and a charismatic foreigner. In the novel, princess Emmajin, the fictional granddaughter of Khubilai Khan, desires nothing more than to join the Mongol army with her best friend Suren.
In the first of many action scenes in Daughter of Xanadu, Emmajin competes with Suren and his brother Temur in a mounted archery contest. She hopes that by winning the archery contest, she will prove to her grandfather that she is strong and capable enough to fight in his army.
Emmajin’s first two arrows strike true and she is confident she will win. But as she moves to draw her final arrow, the thought of a large-eyed, fiery-haired man she saw on the way to the competition breaks her focus.
Though her final shot misses the target, Emmajin’s grandfather tasks her with a mission — to collect information from the same foreign merchant that caused her to lose the competition, Marco Polo. She is initially disappointed by her assignment, accepting it only to display her loyalty to the great Khan with hopes of eventually joining his army.
While Daughter of Xanadu is built on a story arc most often seen in coming-of-age novels, it has depth in places most fiction for young adults falls short.
In the relationship between Marco Polo and Emmajin, more mature readers will find a subtle message about the consequences of war and the importance of cross-cultural understanding. Emmajin spends a large portion of the novel in the court of the world’s only superpower, seeing the world only through the eyes of her powerful, larger-than-life superiors. Marco Polo works throughout the novel to expand her worldview.
As the story unfolds, her perspectives on warfare, honor, and the charming, bearded foreigner change in ways she never could have anticipated.
Yang grew up in Ohio, a state not well-known for its Asian influences. From an early age, she was fascinated with people and places long ago and far away — people who looked, sounded, and lived differently. Her obsession began when she realized China was the modern day "long ago and far away."
After earning a graduate degree in international affairs from Johns Hopkins University, Yang worked at her dream job as a Hong Kong correspondent for Business Week. She travelled all over China reporting on monumental events — including the Sino-British negotiations over Hong Kong’s return to China and the Tiananmen Square protests in Beijing — while perfecting her Mandarin.
Yang has been interested in writing novels from a young age, but chose to work as a reporter for the relative job security. Having been a reporter for more than eight years, she had to train herself to write like a fiction author when creating Daughter of Xanadu.
When asked about future fiction projects, Yang revealed that Daughter of Xanadu is only the first half of Emmajin and Polo’s story. Free from the style and formatting constraints of newspapers, her first completed draft of Daughter of Xanadu was 900 pages long. Later drafts were tightened considerably, and in the end, the story was cut in half, meaning fans of the novel have more to look forward to from this dynamic author.
To learn more about author Dori Jones Yang and Daughter of Xanadu, visit <www.dorijonesyang.com>.