In this scattershot collection, Buruma (Anglomania, 1999, etc.) examines a wide range of cultural, sensual, and destructive encounters between East and West and the gross, subtle, and sometimes violent ways in which Orient and Occident have misunderstood and changed each other.
Buruma’s dichotomy of “missionary and libertine” sums up contrasting Orientalist misperceptions of the Far East: at the extremes, Westerners often viewed Asian countries as zones of guilt-free eroticism and, on the other hand, as places in need of the bracing discipline of Western morality. Asians, in turn, have had their sometimes-surprising take on the West, on colonialism, and on their own traditional cultures. Critiquing the literature, popular culture, film, and politics of Asia, Buruma meditates on some of the results: the disorienting blend of Western-style narcissism with traditional Japanese themes in the life of the “suicidal dandy” novelist Yukio Mishima; the kitschy work of Japanese writer Yoshimoto Banana; the Tokyo musings of American Japanophile Edwin Seidensticker; the Western-influenced work of Bengali director Satyajit Ray and novelist V.S. Naipaul; the real-life affair between Mircea Eliade and Maitreyi Dasgupta, and its literary aftermath; the political autobiography of the Radcliffe-educated Benazir Bhutto; the peculiar combination of racism and benevolence that characterized the American conquest and rule of the Philippines; Hong Kong’s transition to Chinese rule; contrasting Japanese and US views of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki; and the mutual underestimation of Japanese and American that helped cause the Pearl Harbor attack and persists today. Complementing the generous scope of the author’s imagination is Buruma’s humane and literate voice, which illuminates the cultural (and other) contrasts between East and West while always engaging the reader.
Informative and entertaining perspectives on Asia.