Burton: A Biography of Sir Richard Francis Burton by Byron Farwell

Listening to Faure.

 I visited my sister over the 4th of July weekend.  Great visit as always.  We talked politics, that gets intense, and we talked books; that also gets intense but in an enjoyable way.

On the way home I could not resist topping by Recycled Books, which is a used bookstore housed in an old Opera House on the town square in Denton.  I had 45 minutes before closing so I had to act fast.  

I was able to get a few little somethings for myself.

I wasn’t sure how to rate this book. I didn’t really like it, but I sort of liked it, hence the three stars.

The writing was superb and I have ordered other nonfiction books by the author: one on the life of Henry Stanley who found Livingston and another about the Gurkha warriors.

So if you want a well written biography this is one.

But the subject…blech.

I read Arabian Nights as a child. They were great adventure stories filled with magic carpets and genii granting wishes…Lots of fun.

So as an adult I saw a beautifully illustrated of a volume of selections of the Thousand and One Nights (Burton wrote several volumes) and bought it.

And, to my credit, I finished it. It is probably the most misogynistic and racist book I’ve ever read.

All women and Africans were villainous animals. Fate plays a huge role and all sorts of mishaps and tragedies happen to the heroes involved that by the time you’ve read “En Shallah” -or after someone has just has had their arm ripped off by an ogre and their response is “All thanks to Allah, the Merciful One,” you begin to wonder if the narrators are not being sarcastic.

There are no happy endings, but all that I could forgive if the story telling wasn’t so tedious. I don’t know if that is the fault of the folk tales or the translator, which brings me back to this biography.

Sir Richard Burton seems to have popped out of the womb rebellious and just plain odious. As a child his behavior knew no boundaries. He delighted in tormenting his tutors, governesses and fellow classmates. He was expelled from Oxford, which is what he wanted. His father finally caved into his unruly son’s will and bought him a commission in the army.

Burton had an insatiable thirst to learn languages (he learned almost thirty) of the Middle Eastern culture. He disguised himself as an Arab and went on many adventures with native tribesmen and Muslims throughout Saudi Arabia, Egypt- he claims to have found the source of the Nile, but this was disputed by other claimants-Syria and Afghanistan. Plus many other countries, including central African countries and also at one point, North America, where he lauded the polygamy of the Mormons. He went to India.

He was the first European to make it to Mecca and Medina, although when certain Arabs saw through his disguise he had to claim to have converted.

Although other explorers challenged Burton’s claim to have found the Nile, he did discover Lake Tanganyika in the Congo. So I don’t mean to imply that Burton accomplished nothing.

But as far as his writing goes, other than his translation of the Arabian Nights, I don’t know that he made much of a contribution to the rest of the world, unless you like reading the sordid sexual practices of the Middle East and India and you don’t care how boring the writing is.

His devoted and silly wife burnt all that had not been printed immediately after his death. This caused an uproar throughout England, which surprised her. Considering that, apart from the Nights, few people bought the books of Burton that were published, I can understand why.

I did enjoy the descriptions of the different cultures and people that Burton encountered, but that is to Farwell’s credit, not Burton’s.

I plan on reading Edward Rice’s and Thomas Wright’s biographies of Burton. I have started Wright’s and so far have found his writing entertaining even if his subject isn’t. 

Yes, yes.  I know you’re thinking, “What?  You just said you hate the subject.  I know, but I’m curious to see how much the slant the author took influenced my attitude.  Maybe in another biography he’ll turn out to be a nice guy. 

With the Candlestick by S.E. Drake

With The Candlestick? by S.E. Drake

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


This is the second in a series by the Author and I enjoyed it very much. The first one is titled: Secrets and Stained Glass.

As the blurb says, Stacie and Rose are room mates who work at a church in their small town of Fauna. They make friends with a famous author who, with her husband, begin attending their church.

The author’s husband is somewhat mysterious and the girls aren’t sure what to make of him. Then he goes off on one of his many business trips.

As a favor Stacie stays with the author (I’m sorry I can’t remember her name and I don’t have my copy handy).

The next morning Stacie and the author (sorry) find her husband outside on the neighbor’s property, dead.

So…who did it?

The author and her husband live in a queer neighborhood. It’s a cul de sac and unfinished so there are only a small number of houses. Every single neighbor has something weird about them. All of them seem suspect.

There are a number of things about the book that I enjoyed.

First, the writing is well done and the characters are sympathetic and drawn in realistic, interesting colors. If you read the first book in the series you’ll get more of Stacie’s past, why she left her home near Chicago and moved to a small town far away from her family because she felt unwanted and unloved.

The dialogue was nice and concise, every word counted, no unnecessary descriptions or conversations that went nowhere. I hate that.

The plot line had me going. Why was this man killed? And is he who he claimed to be and who his wife thought he was?

Was it one of the neighbors who did it? The author does a good job making the neighbors interesting as well as creepy. Not a neighborhood I’d want to live in.

Yet all the characters had depth. No one was cardboard.

The author is a huge fan of Agatha Christie and it shows. If you like good, cozy mysteries that have warmth, rather than the usual modern fare of coldness, alienation and nihilism, this is the mystery for you.

Oh, did I mention the author just turned 17?



View all my reviews

In celebration of my new blog, I going to offer a giveaway of three of Drake’s books. To enter you must be one of the first three people to send me an email requesting the book, include a mailing address, which I will not share with anyone, and also you must promise to place a review on a commercial site like Amazon.

Email: sharonpaulahenning@gmail.com

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