Lettre Ulysses Award for the art of reportage

Ilija Trojanow, Germany

"For me, travelling is the instrument, inspiration and theme of writing, because it touches the right manner of living, because, like literature, it is cathartic. Indian ascetics, known as Sadhus, move through the country as they did in former times. The orthodox among them don’t even spend two nights in the same encampment. To me, the most important thing seems to be not to travel from your home abroad and to travel back again, but to turn what is foreign into home, sensually, linguistically. Undertake a journey, my friend, said the Sufi poet Rumi, from I to the Self – such a journey turns the world into a goldmine.”

Writer, translator, publisher. Ilija Trojanow was born in Bulgaria in 1965. In 1971, just as he was to be enrolled in school, his parents fled with him through Yugoslavia and Italy to Germany, where they gained political asylum in Munich. A year later, the family moved to Kenya where his father worked as an engineer. Trojanow lived in Nairobi from 1972 to 1984 – apart from a three year period in Germany (1977-1981).

After an extended period in Paris, between 1984 and 1989 he studied law and ethnology in Munich. In 1989, he founded the Marino Publishing House, which specialised in African literature. In the early nineties, Trojanow travelled through Africa. His first book, In Afrika. Mythos und Alltag Ostafrikas (1993), arose from this period, in which he shows how his initial alienation turned to interest and affection for his new home, Kenya. Following Naturwunder Ostafrikas (1994), his Guardians of the Soil. Meeting Zimbabwe Elders was published in 1996, which he wrote with the author Chenjerai Hove. His first novel, Die Welt ist groß und Rettung lauert überall was published in the same year, dealing with a Balkan family’s experience of exile in an Italian home for asylum seekers.

In 1998, Trojanow moved to Bombay. He wrote reportages and essays from India for the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, the Süddeutsche Zeitung and the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, among other newspapers. His essay describing his return to Bulgaria Hundezeiten. Heimkehr in ein fremdes Land was published in 1999.

After travelling along the Ganges from its estuary up to the big cities, Trojanow wrote An den Inneren Ufern Indiens (2003, published in 2005 as Along the Ganges: To the Inner Shores of India). In 2003, he completed the hajj, which he portrays in his book Zu den heiligen Quellen des Islams. Als Pilger nach Mekka und Medina (2004). Der Weltensammler (2006) is his latest novel and is based on the life of the English adventurer Sir Richard Burton (1821-1890). In 2001, Trojanow undertook a three month journey on foot through Tanzania, in the footsteps of the English explorer and Orientalist. Instead of leading a traditional English lifestyle in the colonies, Burton learnt the local languages, immersed himself in other religions and, to the horror of the authorities, travelled anonymously throughout the colonies. Trojanow’s colourful adventure tale about this eccentric adventurer was awarded the 2006 Leipzig Book Fair Prize for fiction.

Trojanow has received many other literary awards, including the Bertelsmann-Literaturpreis at the Ingeborg-Bachmann-Wettbewerb 1995, the Marburger Literaturpreis in 1996 and the Adalbert von Chamisso Prize in 2000. His books have been translated into Spanish, Russian, Czech, Bulgarian, Dutch and English, and some parts have also been translated into French, Polish and Arabic.

Ilija Trojanow has lived in Cape Town since 2003.

go to top of the page

"When history reaches up to the present, works in which living human beings play the leading role can emerge from these themes. That gives the work strength, depth and an especially intense humanity. People and their history speak out of it. The author lends them expression. That is where the particular strength of literary reportage lies, and that is where it differs from memoirs and biographies."Pedro Rosa Mendes (jury member 2003, 2004, 2005 & 2006)