Book Review: ‘The Museum of the World’ by Christopher Kloeble

Whimsical, emotional, and unexpected story.

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Book Title: The Museum of the World
Author: Christopher Kloeble
Translated By: Rekha Kamath Rajan
Publisher: HarperCollins India

Book Review
Based on the real story of the three Bavarian brothers’ big scientific endeavor and ingeniously translated by Rekha Kamath Rajan, Christopher Kloeble’s “The Museum of the World” is a spectacular journey that will alter how we see colonialism’s past.

The book begins with the brothers’ arrival in Bombay in 1854 and their fateful choice to employ Bartholomew, a “nearly twelve-year-old” orphan, to accompany them on their journey. Bartholomew is fluent in many languages, including Hindi, English, German, Gujarati, and Punjabi, and he also practices the Bavarian language.

The Museum of the World by Christopher Kloeble Book Cover
The Museum of the World by Christopher Kloeble Book Cover

The Schlagintweit brothers started as foot troops for the German scholar Alexander von Humboldt, who, in the mid-nineteenth century, launched a joint international effort to investigate the earth’s magnetic field. In 1854, the East India Company cooperated with this German initiative, allowing a Bavarian research expedition to reach India and High Asia.

When the Schlagintweit brothers’ ragtag journey concluded in 1857, one was killed in Kashgar for suspicion of being a Chinese spy. The others had survived grinding treks, avalanches, blizzards, fierce local resistance, and a rapidly unraveling caravan crew to return to Germany and tell their story in books, journals, and memoirs.

The thrilling encounters that mark the voyage of the European pioneers and their interactions with Indians are seen through Bartholomew’s eyes. Bartholomew’s perspective on everything he sees and encounters along the way is as much a reflection on the imperial enterprise, history, and India’s position in the world as it is on the trip itself. Because of his ability as a translator, Bartholomew is an invaluable journey partner for the Bavarian siblings. His witty, keenly observant first-person style immediately brings the events to life.

The story reflects innocence, goodness, and humanity, lesser shown in the tales related to colonial India. This book has opened a new avenue of humanity that many people mask for whatever reasons. Kloeble introduces us to Bartholomew’s story by giving us a glimpse into his brutalized existence in an orphanage in the middle of Bombay’s crumbling Black Town.

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This reminds the readers of many incidents of orphans reported in the news and media. Apart from the darker side, his dream of establishing a museum to house a collection of objects precious to him is fascinating to read. Because of his place in society, the pre-planned minds often poke him with the terrible thought that a brown kid like him cannot afford such aspirations.

Father Fuchs advises the disappointed Bartholomew that he doesn’t need to stress about establishing a museum because one is already in his head! All he had to do was write down everything he had seen, gathered, and recalled.

The book “The Museum of the World” is captivating, gorgeous, and complicated. The story, told from the perspective of an orphaned adolescent, exposes the craziness and folly of Europe’s imperial endeavor in India. The boy’s trip from fetid mid-nineteenth-century Bombay to the high Himalayas is also the journey from precocious boyhood to early manhood.

A highly recommended book for historical fiction lovers!

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Storizen Magazine March 2023 Cover - Anuja Chandramouli
Storizen Magazine March 2023 Cover – Anuja Chandramouli

Read more book reviews in our March 2023 Issue featuring Anuja Chandramouli