Memoirs of a Dervish, with Robert Irwin

One of the world's leading scholars of Islam, and of Middle Eastern politics and art. Robert is also one of our most innovative and imaginative novelists


The lecture draws on his forthcoming book of the same title which will be published by Profile in March, 2011.

In the summer of 1964, while a military coup was taking place and tanks were rolling through the streets of Algiers, Robert Irwin set off for Algeria in search of Sufi enlightenment. He entered a world of marvels and ecstasy, converted to Islam and received an initiation as a faqir. He learnt the rituals of Islam and studied Arabic. He pursued more esoteric topics under a holy fool possessed of telepathic powers. A series of meditations on the nature of mystical experience run through this memoir. But political violence, torture, rock music, drugs and nightmares, Oxbridge intellectuals, and first love are all part of this strange story from the 1960s.

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Robert Irwin

His work is distinguished by a combination of formidable scholarship and narrative vision. His writing is humane, witty and profound and is a unique contribution to the intellectual landscape of our times.

Robert has taught Arabic and Middle Eastern history at the universities of Oxford, Cambridge and London. He is currently a research associate at SOAS and is the Middle East editor of The Times Literary Supplement.

He has written numerous specialised studies of Middle Eastern politics, art and mysticism. These include the brilliant For Lust of Knowing: The Orientalists and their Enemies

Robert Irwin has written so much and his work is so wide-ranging that it is impossible to do it justice here. He is also the head of Dedalus Books, a keen pataphysician, and an evolved roller-blader.


'Nine parts erudite, civil charm to one part blazing napalm.' - Kevin Jackson ~ Sunday Times

The Alhambra ~ 'For those who know his work, it will confirm his genius and to others it will act as an excellent introduction to his strange and magnificent oeuvre.' Martin Bright ~ Observer

Camel ~ "Robert Irwin's erudite, droll and utterly delightful book about the life and lore of the dromedary (one hump) and Bactrian (two) abounds with details that reflect glory on a much-misunderstood animal." Boyd Tonkin ~ Independent

His acclaimed novels include Exquisite Corpse, a tale of love, mystery and surrealism, and the modern classic, **An Arabian Nightmare** which has been translated into 20 languages.

2011Martin Keeley