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Dragon Apparent: Travels in Cambodia, Laos & Vietnam Kindle Edition
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Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
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.
" 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
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Recommend this to everyone. It's a glimpse into a part of the world that was already under attack, destined for all kinds of horrible destruction. Read morePublished 10 months ago by missus peach
I'm going to beg to differ with the other reviewers... I`ve been reading for fifty years, but I have seldom come across a book containing so many words I was unfamiliar with! Read morePublished 21 months ago by Chazz
beautifully written account of early 1950s travel through Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, recalling the world of a Graham Greene novel; account of French colonialism prescient of... Read morePublished on 16 May 2014 by gwi
A beautifully written account of a journey conducted through French Indo-China towards the end of French Colonial rule. Read morePublished on 5 Jun. 2013 by Nico
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