Literary Saloon
Site of Review.

Trying to meet all your book preview and review needs.

the Best
the Rest
Review Index


to e-mail us:

In Association with Amazon.com

In association with Amazon.com - UK



the Complete Review
the complete review - non-fiction

The Travels of Dean Mahomet

Dean Mahomed

(ed. Michael H. Fisher)

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase The Travels of Dean Mahomet

Title: The Travels of Dean Mahomet
Author: Dean Mahomed
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: (1997)
Length: 229 pages
Availability: The Travels of Dean Mahomet - US
The Travels of Dean Mahomet - UK
The Travels of Dean Mahomet - Canada
  • Edited by Michael H. Fisher
  • An Eighteenth-Century Journey Through India
  • Includes The Travels of Dean Mahomet (1794), and supporting material and commentary by Michael H. Fisher
  • See also The First Indian Author in English (Oxford University Press, 1996) (see our review), which includes almost all the same material as this volume
  • The Travels of Dean Mahomet can also be found online -- a version that is highly recommended

- Return to top of the page -

Our Assessment:

B : interesting, colourful historic document, nicely presented

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Contemp. South Asia A 7/1998 Frederick Noronha
Historian A- Summer/1999 Stephen F. Dale
The NY Times Book. Rev. . 7/12/1997 Francine Prose
The Spectator A 3/1/1998 William Dalrymple

  Review Consensus:

  Fascinating historic document, well presented

  From the Reviews:
  • "(Fisher)'s style means that large parts of this work literally reads like a novel. He does a good job of putting things into context, and explaining the background and political significance behind the acts of a single individual. (...) One has to wait to see how the Third World historian responds to such a well-argued analysis, one which promises to sharpen one's view of the past as much as it has the potential to blur the issues of yesteryear." - Frederick Noronha, Contemporary South Asia

  • "Michael Fisher has ably explained the context of Dean Mahomet's Indian and British careers, and persuasively observes that this expatriate's life is more compelling than his formulaic memoirs, which were modeled after early British examples of the colonial travel genre. (...) Fisher's editing and commentary is a model of intelligence and restraint." - Stephen F. Dale, Historian

  • "His descriptions -- of holy men and dancing girls, battles and weddings, unconventional snakebite cures and the nurturing kindness of elephants -- are charming, but the facts of his biography, summarized in an introduction by the historian Michael H. Fisher, seem even more exotic." - Francine Prose, The New York Times Book Review

  • "The Travels of Dean Mahomet is of more than merely biographical interest: it is a fascinating travel book in its own right. Mahomet is an observant writer, who paints a wonderful picture of the surprisingly Anglicised landscape of Northern India in the late 18th century (.....) Mahomet comes across as an extraordinary figure: constantly charming and infinitely adaptable, intelligent and sharpwitted, part charlatan and part Renaissance man. Even Professor Fisher's plodding academese cannot quite take the bloom off this amazing man." - William Dalrymple, The Spectator

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

- Return to top of the page -

The complete review's Review:

       Note: Michael H. Fisher has edited two very similar books, both of which include the text of The Travels of Dean Mahomet (1794) and supporting material. The Oxford University Press edition provides more detailed commentary, and so the focus of that review is Fisher's contribution, while the focus of this review (of the University of California edition) is on Dean Mahomed's actual text.

       Dean Mahomed's 1794 account of his life and travels is an historic text: the first book by an Indian to be published in English, and a rare glimpse at 18th century life in India from the perspective of an Indian. It is written in epistolary form, thirty-eight "letter" addressed to an unidentified and general "dear sir". The brief letters follow Dean Mahomed from childhood to 1784 when he left his homeland and travelled to England. He settled first in Ireland and then England, and managed to parlay his exotic background into a sometime success (especially as a "shampooing surgeon" in Brighton).
       Dean Mahomed was born in Patna in 1759. His father was an officer under the English, killed in 1769, and Dean Mahomed turned to the English (rather than to the local Nawab) to find a place and a future. He eventually found a patron in Godfrey Evan Baker, an Irishman just appointed as cadet in India. Young Dean Mahomed followed Baker and the army, one of a legion of hangers-on. Making himself useful, he eventually found a more permanent place -- and Baker took care of him, eventually even helping him make the transition from India to Ireland.
       Dean Mahomed -- just ten years old when he essentially left his family and joined up with the army -- describes the unusual and far-flung adventures of military life in India at that time. The army was by no means prepossessing, and one of Dean Mahomed's first misadventures comes when "straggling villagers of the neighbouring country" stole into the camp and took absolutely everything of value -- including young Dean Mahomed who had happened to be sleeping in a fancy bed which the thieves carted off with him still in it. Dean Mahomed came to no harm, and most of the thieving villagers were captured (and punished by having their ears and noses chopped off), but the army certainly did not make as great an impression on the locals as they might have hoped.
       Over the years Dean Mahomed travelled with the troops through much of northern India, and he describes Calcutta, Benares (Varanasi), Bombay (Mumbai) and other places of note. He also makes an effort to describe local customs, focussing particularly on Muslim rituals such as circumcision and marriage, though also making note of Hindu practices. A fair amount of local colour is conveyed, though Dean Mahomed's vantage point -- surrounded by British officers, focussed on military duties -- is a somewhat limited one.
       Dean Mahomed writes clearly, in a style fairly typical of the day. There is nothing too elaborate here, but there are a number of nice descriptions and anecdotes, and it is certainly an interesting picture of that place and time. It is, however, Michael H. Fisher's excellent accompanying account (a more extensive version of which can be found in The First Indian Author in English (see our review)) that truly makes the book invaluable.

- Return to top of the page -


The Travels of Dean Mahomet: Dean Mahomed: Michael Fisher: Other versions of this book under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • Hasan Shah's The Dancing Girl
  • See also the Index of literature from and about India at the complete review
  • See also the Index of Biography under review

- Return to top of the page -

About the Author:

       Dean Mahomed (1759-1851) migrated to Ireland in 1784 and then to England around 1807. He was the first Indian to publish a book in English (1794).

- Return to top of the page -

© 2000-2004 the complete review

Main | the New | the Best | the Rest | Review Index | Links