British officer Sir Richard Burton (1821-1890), hero of Ilija Trojanow's novel, is one of the strangest characters in a century rich in eccentrics: rejecting the comforts of 19th century colonial life, he obsessively learns indigenous languages, studies foreign religions, and travels, to the horror of local authorities, anonymously in alien lands. A convert to Islam, Burton becomes one of the first Europeans to enter, unsuspected, the holy sites of Mecca and Medina. His journey to the sources of the Nile turns into a mental and physical test of strength that leads to a complete breakdown. What drove this man who lived with a courtesan in India and studied religious texts at night, an Englishman who blended in amongst the Arabs and who, on his African travels, submitted himself to physical exertions so gruelling that even the natives considered them inhuman.
Ilija Trojanow has written a novel full of fascinating details and insights, trailing his hero through three continents to understand his fascination for Hinduism, Islam and African tribal myths. Simultaneously, his highly topical book explains why Western civilization still fails to understand the dynamics and secrets of foreign cultures.
"Trojanow surprises us as only he can." (Der Spiegel)
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