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A Dragon Apparent: Travels in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam Paperback – 29 Aug 2003

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Product details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Eland Publishing Ltd; New edition edition (29 Aug. 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 090787133X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0907871330
  • Product Dimensions: 2.5 x 14 x 22.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 23,276 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


Mr Lewis can make even a lorry interesting. -- Cyril Connolly, Sunday Times

The main qualities of Lewis's writing are simplicity, clarity, curiosity, confidence, humanity, humour and courage. It is an enviable list. -- Lucretia Stewart, Sunday Times

This is an absorbing and heart aching glimpse of lands, peoples and customs which have gone forever. -- Manchester Evening News

From the Inside Flap

Travelling through Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia in the twilight of the French colonial regime, Norman Lewis witnesses these ancient civilisations as they were before the terrible devastation of the Vietnam War. He creates a portrait of traditional societies struggling to retain their integrity in the embrace of the West. He meets emperors and slaves, brutal plantation owners and sympathetic French officers trapped by the economic imperatives of the colonial experiment. From tribal animists to Viet-Minh guerillas, he witnesses this heart-breaking struggle over and over, leaving a vital portrait of a society on the brink of catastrophic change.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By John P. Jones III TOP 500 REVIEWER on 23 Dec. 2010
Format: Paperback
.is, as Lewis says, the right way to do everything in Vietnam. This book is a travelogue and more, an erudite one, written with profound philosophical insights, and clean, original prose. At the beginning Lewis is quite clear what motivated him to undertake this unusual, and at times dangerous trip - the Chinese Civil War had just ended, the Communists had won, the door was closed, both literally and figuratively on a way of life that would be no more. He wanted to see Indochina before the same occurred. His concerns were prescient.

After a glancing view of the "universal religion," the Cao-Dai, with its wild pastiche of saints that include Joan of Arc, Victor Hugo and Confucius, Lewis moves to the Central Highlands of what would become South Vietnam, and for almost half the book reports on the colonial arrangements involving the aboriginal peoples the French called the Montangards, the Moi, the Rhades, and the Jarai. It was these people, in particular, who would have their way of life completely destroyed in the French, and later, the American wars. Lewis scathingly described the American missionaries, living quite well, trying to collect a "few souls," and utterly indifferent to the physical life of their would-be converts. As he said: "I waited in vain for the quotation beginning, `Render unto Caesar'...." His portrait of French colonial officials is more nuanced. He reports that they were often sympathetic, and even helpful to the "natives," yet when push came to shove, as it does so often from the rapacious planter's need for ever more (slave) labor for their plantations, they invariably knuckled under. Of personal interest to me was the unfavorable description of the French owner of the tea plantation near Pleiku.
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Mark Guthrie on 11 Feb. 2010
Format: Paperback
There are many books in the market that cover travelling through South East Asia. Most are tales of debauchery and foolishness of the western backpacker as they bumble their way from one tourist hot-spot to another, drinking and shagging everything that they come in contact with. A Dragon Apparent is everything that those books are not.

Set in French Indo-China as the Viet Minh are beginning to wage their guerrilla war against their colonial oppressors, Lewis winds his way around the area with a curiosity befitting of an area of still unspoilt and uncharted beauty. Though he is not a dare-devil reporter diving into the war zone, Lewis still manages to skirt closely to the danger areas - always serendipitously either one step ahead or behind any serious trouble - and meets many locals and colonialists that are either main protagonists or deeply effected by the near lawlessness of the region.

Herein lies the aspect that sets A Dragon Apparent above the modern writers of this bloated genre. Whereas Lewis' recent contemporaries have tales of excitement and fear it is unlikely for them to come in much contact with the locals unless they are bar staff, taxi drivers or prostitutes. Lewis' masterstroke is that he is able to meet with the inhabitants of the region from all sorts of life - from Cambodian Monarchy to Vietnamese tribes with ways of life barely changed in thousands of years. It is his description of the joys, and at times frustrations with those he meets that really makes this book such a pleasure to read. Couple this with picture perfect descriptions of the scenery and landscape and it is no wonder that the great Graham Greene was so moved to follow in Lewis' footsteps.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By DOGG on 15 May 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The Vietnam War...everyone knows the tales, the films,the images,the defeat and the eventual humiliation of the americans...but barely a decade earlier the French colonial forces suffered a similar fate...history repeats itself....and my mind shifts to Afghanistan..!.

" A Dragon Apparent" is about Lewis's travels in Indochina (Vietnam,Cambodia and Laos) in the early 1950's during the protracted war between the Viet Minh and French colonial forces. Within a few years of Lewis visiting the area, the French would be defeated at Dien Bien Phu and forced to leave Indochina.

The war is always looming in the background of this highly readable and intelligent travel narrative, as Lewis moves from region to region the French are barricaded in and dont dare to venture out at night. He visits the tribes of the Central Highlands(devastated by the americans a decade later), where the locals are press-ganged into working on plantations and Viet Minh irregulars harass the supply routes. The tribes he visited have long since been divided or damaged by the Vietnam War, it is fascinating to read about these lost worlds, where the french colonials try to educate their subjects while exploiting their manpower.

There is a sadness at the heart of this book, Lewis is an upbeat and chipper writer but he must have felt that the war was starting to change Indochina, indeed the whole region would be devastated within 15 years. He mixes with the French soldiers, the locals and colonials, observing events and absorbing the culture.

I didnt expect such a detailed account of a mainly forgotten era and war. Eland have a huge catalogue of historical travel literature and i recommend checking them out
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