I wasn’t sure if I was going to finish this book, especially after the writing style seemed a little too full of itself, maybe even pretentious. And full of unfamiliar words — either outdated or foreign to me — that required a quick search of the dictionary to keep me going. It reminded me of other German historical fiction books I’d tried to read and quit on, but I kept going.
I am glad that I persisted, because it really was an enjoyable read. Not having known anything about Sir Richard Francis Burton, I became intrigued by this English explorer who was curious about the world and the people in it, and set himself apart from his fellow explorers in many ways.
The story is split into three main sections, each focusing on a different place Burton visited: India and Pakistan, the Middle East, and Eastern Africa. Each section switches between Burton and other individuals, either servants who helped him in his travels or outsiders trying to figure him out. We see his attempts to learn more about the places he visits and the people he meets, including his difficulty in sharing his interest and curiosity with his fellow Englishmen.
The only downside to the book is that it can take some work to get through, so don’t expect a bit of light reading. Some sections get a bit weighty in philosophy or theology, either due to the content or the flowery writing. And it’s best to have a dictionary (or the Internet) handy, since the included glossary — which I found a bit too late — didn’t have definitions for everything, and sometimes the meaning isn’t clear from the context.
That said, I would highly recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys historical fiction that features traveling or a great adventure as the main theme. Although it wavers a bit towards the end, the story is a pretty intriguing one that kept my interest throughout.