THE LANDS OF CHARM AND CRUELTY by Stan Sesser

THE LANDS OF CHARM AND CRUELTY

Travels in Southeast Asia
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 Five sharp essays (expanded from New Yorker pieces) that explore political, socioeconomic, and ecological conditions in five southeast Asian locales: Singapore, Laos, Cambodia, Burma, and Borneo. Sesser presents concise histories of the territories he visited as well as interviews with the demagogues and dissidents who keep this remote corner of the world in a near-constant state of turmoil. His description of the Singapore scene will probably prove the least familiar to most readers and for that reason comes across as the freshest, most involving, piece here. The author captures the Kafkaesque quality of life in the port city, where every aspect of residents' lives is regulated (Cosmopolitan is banned, and failing to flush a public toilet is punishable by a fine). In his efforts to attract multinational investors, Singapore prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, Sesser tells us, has become obsessed with social and political ``stability,'' creating a sterile--if enormously prosperous--enclave in which annual economic growth is measured in double digits. Cambodia, by contrast, is a country of immense poverty, racked by shifting political allegiances and shocking compromises. In Sesser's view, the murderous Khmer Rouge will probably regain power, since they seem to be the only entity able to deal with the nation's near-universal political corruption. Moving on to Borneo, the author exposes Japanese involvement in the ecological destruction of the island's rain forests and in the destabilization of the native peoples. An eye-opening report on nations caught between the securities of the past and the uncertainties of the future. (Five maps)

Pub Date: May 10th, 1993
ISBN: 0-679-41600-5
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 1993