From Venice to Greenland on the Trail of the Zen Brothers
By Andrea Di Robilant
Knopf, Hardcover, 9780307269850, 240pp.
Publication Date: May 24, 2011
List Price: $25.95*
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From the author of A Venetian Affair and Lucia comes a charming odyssey in the path of the mysterious Zen brothers, who explored parts of the New World a century before Columbus, and became both a source of scandal and a cause célèbre among geographers in the following centuries.
This delightful journey begins with Andrea di Robilant’s serendipitous discovery of a travel narrative published in Venice in 1558 by the Renaissance statesman Nicolò Zen: the text and its fascinating nautical map re-created the travels of two of the author’s ancestors, brothers who explored the North Atlantic in the 1380s and 1390s. Di Robilant set out to discover why later, in the nineteenth century, the Zens’ account came under attack as one of the greatest frauds in geographical history. Was their map—and even their journey—partially or perhaps entirely faked?
In Irresistible North the author follows the Zens’ route from the Faeroes to Shetland to Iceland and Greenland, greeted by characters who help unravel the enigmas in the Zens’ account. The medieval world comes to life as di Robilant guides us through a landscape enlivened by the ghosts of power-hungry earls and bishops of the old Norwegian realm and magical tales of hot springs and smoking mountains. In this rich telling—an original work of history and a travel book in one—the magnetism of the north draws us in as powerfully as it drew the Zen brothers more than six centuries ago.
Andrea di Robilant was born in Italy and educated at Columbia University, where he specialized in international affairs. He is the author of two previous books, A Venetian Affair and Lucia: A Venetian Life in the Age of Napoleon. He currently lives in Rome with his wife and two sons.
“Captivating. . . . Di Robilant cleverly weaves an original work of history and a travel book into one fascinating tale of mystery, adventure and intrigue.”
“Di Robilant is a fine, solid researcher and a thoughtful, conscientious interpreter.”
—The New York Times Book Review
“Di Robilant has a flair for the evocative detail. . . . His willingness to travel to places far off the beaten path enlivens his account, giving it forward momentum.”
—Los Angeles Times
“While historians and cartographers will continue their challenges, readers will be intrigued and perhaps convinced by this very readable account.”
—The Washington Times