The Collector of WorldsIlija Trojanow
München: Hanser, 2006
Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, 2007
The Collector of Worlds (Faber & Faber, 2008)
Le collectionneur de mondes (Buchet Chastel, 2008)
Portuguese translation: O colecionador de mundos (Companhia das Letras, 2010)
The novel follows the journeys of the historical figure, Richard Francis Burton, who "collected worlds" in the 19thcentury, like some people collect stamps. Each of his three travel destinations is described in a separate part of the novel. Burton's journey begins in India where he carries out espionage activities for the British crown. He was given this task because of his adaptability and his knowledge of Indian languages, which he learnt before his arrival. Burton becomes immersed in Indian culture. He finds a Brahmin teacher and his mistress Kundalini initiates him in tantric sexual practices.
The middle part of the novel deals with the secret, arduous pilgrimage Burton undertook to the cities of Mecca and Medina, forbidden to non Muslims. Arabia is the height of his adaptation to foreign cultures: Burton is deeply affected by the communal experience of religious immersion – and yet he distances himself from this feeling as soon as he becomes aware of it. The last destination is East Africa. Along with his fanatical hunting colleague, Speke, Burton undertakes an exploratory journey to find the source of the Nile. Burton assumes a scientific critical distance from the surrounding cultures. From an ethnological perspective, he notes his many observations in notebooks. Burton's journeys are steeped in a continual search for the divine. He nevertheless refuses any exclusive religious claims to God. He cannot, however, escape from receiving the Last Sacrament while lying unconscious on his deathbed in Trieste.