Stitch and Bear

A long-running Irish blog with reviews of the best restaurants in Dublin and throughout Ireland. Some wine and cocktails thrown in for good measure!

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Collector of Worlds - Iliya Troyanov

Another advance reading copy (ARC) in my postbox! Will wonders never cease? (Wistful sigh - Probably). This one arrived courtesy of Faber and Faber via the Early Reviwers group on

Originally published in German, this is the English version of Iliya Troyanov's fictional version of the life of English adventurer and polyglot, Sir Richard Francis Burton. Burton was an amazing man with many accomplishments to his name. It is rumoured that he spoke nearly 30 languages, he translated The Arabian Nights and the Kama Sutra into english and he was the first westerner to make the trip to Mecca.

The book deals with three episodes in Burton's life. We encounter him on his first posting to India, where he establishes a household and learns the native tongues. He undertakes spying missions for the British military and ultimately comes under suspicion for becoming too native. The second episode covers his trip to Mecca in disguise as Sheikh Abdullah. Lastly, we follow him on his trip to Lake Victoria in Africa, as he and fellow traveller, Speke, seek to find the source of the Nile.

I was initially hesitant about reading a book translated from it's original language. I often feel that something is lost in the traslation, that some elegant distinguishing turn of phrase is lost forever in the change from one tongue to another. It is clear when reading this book that it was not written in English, but it does not detract from the story in the slightest. Reading in different sentence structures to what you are accustomed sometimes forces you to read every world carefully.
Somehow the language used in the book reflects the different and strange Eastern world that Burton inhabited.

The narrative techniques used to describe Burton's adventures are creative and interesting. We obeserve him second-hand from people who dealt with him and even from a third-hand viewpoint. The three sections have different tempos and each set of third-hand obeservers provides their own form of humourous relief.

I feel that Troyanov captured something of the essence of Burton. We are left with a portrait of a highly intelligent, adaptable man who yearned for some spirituality. He appeared to find some comfort in the Muslim faith, but as a westerner, could never declare it and I think that Troyanov communicates this dichotomy excellently.


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