Tim Mackintosh-Smith follows Ibn Battutah across Africa, Spain and China

Landfalls, by Tim Mackintosh-Smith, John Murray, RRP£9.99, 368 pages

Ibn Battutah was an early Renaissance Moroccan who travelled further than Marco Polo. Seven centuries later, Tim Mackintosh-Smith pursues “IB” from the slave ports of Tanzania to China and back to Africa and Spain, where IB “went to Granada and missed the Alhambra”. Mackintosh-Smith has a better eye for detail, and his zesty travelogue is packed with eccentric characters and anecdote.

Resident in Yemen for 25 years, Mackintosh-Smith shares IB’s sense of being “at home in a transplanted Muslim setting”. His jaunty prose, which easily shoulders a considerable weight of research, is companionable when hiking up Sri Lankan mountains or unpacking the ethnological baggage of “devil ships” in the Maldives.

From refined Sufi influences to witch doctoring, his scholarly but entertaining exploration reveals a porous border between Islam and tribal faiths, suggesting that Islam is more complex and less dogmatic than many in the west would believe.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2016. All rights reserved. You may share using our article tools. Please don't cut articles from and redistribute by email or post to the web.

More on this topic

Suggestions below based on Africa

The missing middle in African private equity

Parallel to the global narrative about Africa’s economic progress, the discussion about private equity in the region has taken on a bipolar nature—either there is too much money chasing too few deals or there is a dearth of capital for African countries’ entrepreneurs. The Economist warned in 2015 that “too much money is pouring into too few funds, chasing the few big deals on offer”. At the same time, the IFC estimates that “up to 84 per cent of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Africa are either un-served or underserved” in terms of access to capital.