It was 1976 when Tiziano Terzani was warned by the fortune-teller in Hong Kong: "Beware! You run a grave risk of dying in 1993. You mustn't fly that year. Don't fly, not even once." Sixteen years later, Terzani had not forgotten. Despite living the life of a jet-hopping journalist, he decided that, after a lifetime of sensible decisions, he would confront the prophecy the Asian way, not by fighting it, but by submitting. He also resolved that on the way he would seek out the most eminent local oracle, fortune-teller or sorcerer and look again into his future. So after a feast of red ant egg omelet and a glass of fresh water, he brought the new year in on the back of the elephant. He even made it to his appointments--Cambodia to cover the first democratic elections; Burma, for the opening of the first road to connect Thailand and China; and even Florence to visit his mother, a trip that would take him 13,000 miles across Cambodia, Vietnam, China, Mongolia and Siberia. In this way, the jet-hopping journalist rediscovered the art of travel, the intricate chains of chance which lead to discovery, and the mass of humanity he'd overlooked in his rush for newsworthy quotes. And he also saved his life. Terzani's odyssey across Asia is full of revelations and reflections on the dramatic changes underway in Asia. Having spent two decades on the continent, he brings a deep love for the place to his journeys, but also the eyes of someone troubled by the changes he sees. Burma and Laos, finally open to outside contact, are now funnels for AIDS and drugs; Thailand has been traumatised by its rapid development; China is an anarchy fuelled by money rather than ideology and Mao has been transformed into the God of traffic. Surrounded by the loss of diversity wrought by modernism, Terzani asks if the "missionaries of materialism and economic progress" aren't destroying the continent in order to save it. Fortunately, there is a flip side to his occasionally dispiriting commentary, which Terzani discovers in his hunt for fortune-tellers. Through his side trips to seers who read the soles of his feet, the ashes of incense, even the burned scapula of sheep, it becomes clear that the Orient of legends, myths and magic still determines people's lives as much as the quest for money. By staying earthbound, Terzani lived to tell of an extraordinary journey through the ever-shifting kaleidoscope of Asia.--Lesley Reed
Warned by a fortune-teller not to risk flying, the author – a seasoned correspondent – took to travelling by rail, road and sea. Consulting fortune-tellers and shamans wherever he went, he learnt to understand and respect older ways of life and beliefs now threatened by the crasser forms of Western modernity.
William Shawcross in the Literary Review praised Terzani for ‘his beautifully written adventure story… a voyage of self-discovery… He sees fortune-tellers, soothsayers, astrologers, chiromancers, seers, shamans, magicians, palmists, frauds, men and women of god (many gods) all over Asia and in Europe too… Almost every page and every story celebrates the mystical and the unknowable. It is a fabulous story of renewal and change… Terzani is already something of a legend. He has written magnificently all his life. Never better than now.’
Yes, the fortune-teller did save him from an air-crash in Cambodia. Looking back afterwards, Terzani reckoned that ‘I was marked for death and instead I was reborn.’