Archive for the ‘History’ Category

I received this book as an Early Reviewer on LibraryThing and started it soon after I had come down from the hype of the previous book I had finished. Perhaps it was because of that proximity to my previous read, but what a come down it was. Although I fought my way to the end of this book, it was like trying to swim in treacle for much of it and I found myself wondering whether I could “cheat” and say I finished when I actually put it down halfway. I didn’t cheat – I did finish it, but it was a tough book to get through and I wasn’t sure that I felt it was worth it.

To be fair, The Collector of Worlds is a translation, which can make the writing difficult. The author had chosen the story of the Victorian explorer, Sir Richard Burton, as his subject. Burton had spent his life travelling India, Africa and the Middle East, adopting languages, cultures and religions as he went. He seems to be constantly searching for the new and the different – a trait I admire. However, unfortunately the book turned Burton into a detached character drowning in a sea of extraneous words and excruciating (and not particularly necessary) descriptions and monologues. The book is divided into three parts – the first covers Burton’s early journey to India and his adoption of Islam. It is narrated (in part) by his ex-servant in a manner which I found somewhat contrived. The second describes Burton’s trip to Mecca, explained in part by a number of Turkish officials who were exploring his motives after the fact. The final story finds Burton in Africa, searching for the source of the Nile, and partially narrated by one of his guides.

This tripartite division does little for the coherence of this historical novel. In fact, the switch between each part is jarring. I found the middle part the most difficult to get through – the paragraphs were so dense at times, I found myself skim reading over pages in order to try and pick up the thread of the story again. The disappointing part was that those pages I skimmed were necessary, it seemed, only to demonstrate the author’s erudition. His erudition may be admirable, but as a reader it bored me to tears. This book could have done with a good editor who could have reduced it down significantly from the 450+ pages it currently stands at. Perhaps then the experience of reading it might have been a little more pleasant.

The ending was really odd. I don’t think it is a spoiler to say Burton eventually dies in his old age, but even that was drawn out to an unecessary degree – not Burton’s passing, but the ‘crisis’ of the priest of presided over his death. By that stage, I was desperate to get the book finished and move onto something else. It was the nail in its coffin so to speak.

Were there any redeeming features? I think bringing the story to life in novel form is a good tactic – I know when I first heard the name I could only think of the actor. I also can’t fault the author’s research on the subject and the surrounding context, but rather than telling me everything, tell me enough and keep the story readable.

Rating: 2/10
Date Finished: 12 June 2008
Challenges: 4/8 of The Pub Challenge


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The Nuremberg Interviews were conducted by Leon Goldensohn during the trials of 1945-1946. Gathered together and finally published by his brother, Eli, and carefully edited and annotated by Robert Gellately, this primary historical source makes for chilling reading. Goldensohn, an American Jewish psychiatrist, was present at the prison and conducted interviews with many of the defendants and witnesses of Nuremberg. What results is a story of banality, in some cases inhumanity, weakness, bombast and fear. Through questioning, the personalities of the leading players came out, sometimes to terrifying and devastating effect.

I did not know all of the defendants or witnesses, but those that I did know – Goering, Ribbentrop, Jodl, Keitel and Franck among others, were suddenly given colour. To hear their own words was chilling. Most begged innocence. Most exonerated themselves of any responsibility for the mass murder and horror of the Second World War. Most chose to blame those players who were dead – Hitler, Goebbels, Himmler. And most were clearly lying and delusional.

The most frightening of all was the interview with Rudolf Hoess – Kommandant of Auschwitz prison. His account of his responsibilities and the cool detatchment with which he spoke of them made me feel physically ill. I had to put the book down halfway through the chapter because I couldn’t stand reading further. To think that humans could be so detached in the face of suffering and murder, as attested to by his own words, was almost impossible.

This is a valuable historical source. It makes for incredibly compelling reading – if nothing else to find out how utterly ordinary most of the people involved with Hitler actually were. They didn’t appear to be monsters. They didn’t appear large as life. They just seemed like very ordinary (or often weak, snivelling or pathetic) men who for some reason, ceased to think like civilised human beings when it came to genocide.

A must for any historian of World War II. But be prepared.

Rating: 8/10
ISBN: 1-8459-5014-3
Publisher: Pimlico
Year: 2006
Date Finished: 29 December 2007

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