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It's hard to take Richard Burton seriously nowadays. His sardonic humor and his hilarious deadpan observations about Middle Eastern life sound more like a satire on Victorian attitudes than an actual travel story. And yet, underneath the veneer one sometimes catches a glimpse of sympathy and actual respect for the people he writes about. Under the veneer, too, there is a hard core layer of reality, and a surprising number of his observations are true even today. The thing that gets me is that he was able to pull off the pilgrimage at all! As a sometime traveler and student of languages, I have been in situations where I have tried to pass for a native, and regardless of where you go it is a difficult act to pull off for more than five minutes. How Burton got all the way to Mecca without being stoned to death is beyond me. Which makes it a good adventure story as well as good travel literature. One of the most enjoyable books I have ever read. I recommend it highly.
I confess: Richard F Burton is one of my heroes. In part, it's because much of my life has been spent in his traces, from India, through the Middle East, to Baltimore and the Great Plains.
He's simply a fabulous story-teller. Whether he's commenting on the sexual proclivities of the people of a region, their food, clothing, culture or religious practices, he's just fascinating.
This book really should not be sold separately from the second volume; they go together. That said, this is an excellent introduction to 19th C. Arabia. It's an Arabia that exists only in the minds of traditionalists--foreign or Arab--but it informs so much of how the Arabs see themselves that it's "must reading."
Burton was in his prime when he wrote this, before his misadventures in searching for the source of the Nile. His observations are acute; his writing clear. Make no mistake, Burton was a member of Victorian English society, even if he could laugh at the barriers of class when out of the country. His insights into Arabia, though, cast a very clear reflection of his upbringing, as well as the new sense of anthropological research he adds to the process.
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India: Goa, and the Blue Mountains, 1851 Scinde,or, The Unhappy Valley, 1851 Sindh, and the Races that inhabit the Valley of the Indus, 1852 Falconry in the Valley of the Indus, 1852 A Complete System of bayonet Exercise, 1853 Africa: Personal Narrative of a Pilgrimage to El-Medinah and Mecca, 1855 First Footsteps in Africa: or an exploration of Harar, 1856 The Lake Regions of Central Africa: A Picture of Exploration, 1860 The Lake Regions of Central Equatorial Africa with Notices of the Lunar Mountains and the sources of the White Nile...1860 America: The City of the Saints and across the Rocky Mountains, 1861 The Prairie traveler, 1863 Misc.: Abeokuta and the Cameroon mountians, 1863 Wanderings in West Africa, 1863 A Mission to Gelele, King of the Dahomes,...Read more ›
Richard Burton, the reader will remark, is perhaps the most painstakingly observant traveler who ever set his thoughts to print. Unfortunately, this frequently adds an unpalatable heaviness to his writings. At times -- and here only at times -- does his penchant for every detail add oppressive weight to his narrative. In every Burton book, he describes in hideous detail all the foibles, deficiencies or vices of his traveling companions, frequently porters or guides on hire. In the Narrative, this tendency exists, but to a much lesser extent. Here, thankfully to the reader, Burton softens his powers of running down his entourage to no purpose. This book is otherwise an excellent story of obtaining license to leave Cairo, to travel through Suez and Yambu, and to join the pilgrimage trail up through Medina (in this first volume). His descriptions of the Prophet's Mosque and tomb are enjoyable, and the details along the route are lively and captivating. Burton does not reach the Holy City of Mecca until the second volume. Burton, as the other reviewer pointed out, is an acquired taste, or distaste, as the reader must debate for himself. If you could not stomach another Burton, you'll still probably enjoy this one. If you enjoyed this one, savor it. The second volume delights just as well.
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