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A Dragon Apparent: Travels in Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam Paperback – December 19, 2003

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Editorial Reviews


"one of the best post-war travel books and, in retrospect, the most heart-rending" The Observer

About the Author

Norman Lewis is England's finest, living travel writer. He has written a dozen travel books, including such masterpieces as Naples'44, Golden Earth and The Honoured Society. He has also written thirteen novels. Lewis regards his life's major achievement to be the reaction to an article written by him entitled Genocide in Brazil, published in 1968. This led to a change in Brazilian law relating to the treatment of Indians, and to the formation of Survival International, which campaigns for the rights of indigenous peoples.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 334 pages
  • Publisher: Eland Books (December 19, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 090787133X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0907871330
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.3 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #501,914 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

24 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Christopher Tricarick on August 10, 2008
Format: Paperback
First, the negative. Norman Lewis is a travel writer; he is not a researcher or a historian. He sometimes relies on what other people tell him for background information, and as a result his chapters are of varying degrees of trustworthiness: the worst point, probably, is his account of the Hmong (whom he, following the traditional nomenclature, calles the Meo) is probably the worst for misinformation. On the other hand, when he has access to first-class information--say, having learned about the Moi from a major anthropologist--his account is riveting.

The truth about this book is almost precisely the opposite of what another reviewer has said. On the surface it is a mere travelogue, occasionally exciting, usually interesting, sometimes dull. Only towards the middle does one realise that one is in the company of a man of wit, imagination, insight, philosophy, humanity, and a keen passion to get to the heart of things coupled with an uncanny capacity to succeed in doing so. A visit to Ankor Wat produces a meditation on history and the nature of politics which could stand proudly on a shelf with Ruskin. His visits to primitive tribes are as revealing as those of Levi-Strauss and more readable. In a few deft incisive sentences he can lay bare the technique of the skilled propagandist or reveal the true motives behind an economic arrangment.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By John P. Jones III TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on August 28, 2008
Format: Paperback, as Lewis says, the right way to do everything in Vietnam. This book is a travelogue and more, an erudite one, written with profound philosophical insights, and clean, original prose. At the beginning Lewis is quite clear what motivated him to undertake this unusual, and at times dangerous trip - the Chinese Civil War had just ended, the Communists had won, the door was closed, both literally and figuratively on a way of life that would be no more. He wanted to see Indochina before the same occurred. His concerns were prescient.

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.
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26 of 33 people found the following review helpful By A. Ross HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on August 24, 2006
Format: Paperback
A former British Intelligence officer, Lewis was one of those postwar travel writers whose books sold like gangbusters but have since largely faded into obscurity. Having recently traveled to Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia, and being a fan of the travelogue genre, I thought this might be a fitting introduction to his work. Originally published in 1951, the book documents his trip of the previous year to French Indochina (Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia) -- an era when the French colonial rule was in decline and the Viet Minh had already taken up arms to drive them out. The majority of the book is spent in Vietnam, although certain spots on the modern tourist routes are given their due, such as Siem Reap (Angkor) and Luang Prabang.

Lewis writes clean, crisp, one might say "British" prose, which is easily digested -- so much so, in fact, that it takes a while to realize that the book is actually quite boring. His trip is somewhat of a litany of banal travel clichés: descriptions of bad roads, worse bus drivers, decrepit vehicles, inscrutable natives, "exotic" food, and so forth. Despite his evident interest in various small rural tribes, he doesn't seem to know very much about them, and thus, isn't able to tell the reader much of anything useful about them either. The most interesting parts of the book are his interactions with other Westerners, especially the missionaries, plantation lords, and various French civil and military administrators who are eager to show him around.
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