Who was Arminius Vámbéry? A poverty-stricken, Jewish autodidact; a linguist; traveller, and writer; or a sometime Zionist, inspiration for Dracula’s nemesis, and British secret agent?
Vámbéry wrote his own story many times over. And it was these often highly embroidered accounts of journeys through Persia and Central Asia that saw him acclaimed in Victorian England as an intrepid explorer and daring adventurer. Against the backdrop of the ‘Great Game’, in which Russia and Britain jostled for territory, influence, and control of the borders and gateways to India and its wealth, Vámbréy played the roles of hero and double-dealer, of fascinated witness and Imperial charlatan.
The Dervish Bowl is the story of these competing narratives, a compelling investigation of the ever-changing persona Vámbréy created for himself, and of the man who emerges from his private correspondence and the accounts of both his friends and his enemies, many of whom were themselves major players in the geopolitical adventures of the volatile nineteenth-century – a time when Britain’s ambitions for her empire were at their height, yet nothing and no one was quite as they seemed.
ANABEL LOYD has been a regular columnist for the Indian Telegraph for many years. She has lived and worked in India and has a particular interest in the Indian history of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.