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A Dragon Apparent: Travels in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam Paperback – 29 Aug 2003
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"One of the most absorbing travel books I have read for a very long time. The great charm of the work is its literary vividness. Nothing he describes is dull, and he writes as entertainingly of a Saigon nightclub as of the stupendous ruins of Angkor."
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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.See all Product description
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" 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
Mr Lewis travels at his own expense and without sponsor. He is as content to stay in an outlying village guard hut as he is a governor's guest room and always eschews luxury. He talks to local colonial officials, plantation owners and aboriginal tribesmen. He participates in tribal ceremonies and reports them in meticulous detail and vivid but spare prose and visits places well off the beaten track.
Mr Lewis reports with scrupulous accuracy and is always careful to present his subjects faithfully without seeking to advance an agenda. One can guess at his views from the sometimes sardonic tone of his writing but his views never obscure the subject and any shadow he casts is barely noticeable.
The book itself is a wonderful depiction of a world now lost and it is written in beautiful prose. One of my favourite travel books.
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