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A Fortune-Teller Told Me: Earthbound Travels in the Far East Paperback – April 23, 2002

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway Books (April 23, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 060980958X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0609809587
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (53 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #304,285 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

It was 1976 when Tiziano Terzani was warned by the fortuneteller in Hong Kong: "Beware! You run a grave risk of dying in 1993. You mustn't fly that year. Don't fly, not even once." Sixteen years later, Terzani had not forgotten. Despite living the life of a jet-hopping journalist, he decided that, after a lifetime of sensible decisions, he would confront the prophecy the Asian way, not by fighting it, but by submitting. He also resolved that on the way he would seek out the most eminent local oracle, fortuneteller, or sorcerer and look again into his future. So after a feast of red-ant egg omelet and a glass of fresh water, he brought the new year in on the back of an elephant. He even made it to his appointments: Cambodia, to cover the first democratic elections; Burma, for the opening of the first road to connect Thailand and China; and even Florence, to visit his mother, a trip that would take him 13,000 miles across Cambodia, Vietnam, China, Mongolia, and Siberia. In this way, that jet-hopping journalist rediscovered the art of travel, the intricate chains of chance which lead to discovery, and the mass of humanity he'd overlooked in his rush for newsworthy quotes. And he also saved his life.

Terzani's odyssey across Asia is full of revelations and reflections on the dramatic changes underway in Asia. Having spent two decades on the continent, he brings a deep love for the place to his journeys, but also the eyes of someone troubled by the changes he sees. Burma and Laos, finally open to outside contact, are now funnels for AIDS and drugs; Thailand has been traumatized by its rapid development; China is an anarchy fueled by money rather than ideology, where Mao has been transformed into the god of traffic. Surrounded by the loss of diversity wrought by modernism, Terzani asks if the "missionaries of materialism and economic progress" aren't destroying the continent in order to save it. Fortunately, there is a flip side to his occasionally dispiriting commentary, one that Terzani discovers in his hunt for fortunetellers. Through his side trips to seers who read the soles of his feet, the ashes of incense, and even the burned scapula of sheep, it becomes clear that the Orient of legends, myths, and magic still determines people's lives as much as the quest for money. By staying earthbound, Terzani lived to tell of an extraordinary journey through the ever-shifting kaleidoscope of Asia.--Lesley Reed --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

"I was marked for death, and instead I was reborn," declares Italian-born journalist Terzani (Saigon 1975; Goodnight, Mr. Lenin; etc.) and readers of this vivid memoir will believe it. In 1976, early on in his career as a Der Spiegel correspondent in Asia, Terzani was warned by a Hong Kong fortune-teller not to fly in 1993 or he would die. When the fateful year came, Terzani submitted to the warning (no easy decision given all the voyages his work requires), and that year traveled, sometimes with wife Angela in tow, by ship, car, bus and train through 11 countries, including Burma, Laos, Cambodia and Mongolia. Dividing his lucid, graceful and unsentimental prose into 27 anecdotal chapters, Terzani takes readers to the International Thai Association of Astrology, investigates the use of raw garlic and red peppers as a bulwark against the AIDS virus and decries the domestic dog butcherings in Hanoi and constant creeping Westernization throughout the continent, which he encounters and laments in myriad forms. Talking with shamans and soothsayers, Terzani finds the Westernized mind "more limited... a great part of its capacity has been lost. The mind is perhaps the most sophisticated instrument we have, yet we do not give it the attention we give our leg muscles." Terzani's ease and candor and his care for local politics, religion and everyday life make for a full journey of mind, body and spirit. (On-sale date: June 19)Forecast: This book was published by HarperCollins UK in 1997; the delay in its issue here lessens its immediacy considerably. As an Italian correspondent for a German magazine who works in Asia for his living and has a strong Luddite strain, Terzani offers an idiosyncratic, decidedly non-American point of view it's this book's great strength, but also a possible liability with the less internationally minded.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

His decision makes a life changing turn for the better.
Fafa Demasio
It was absolutely wonderful writing and was so very Asian that I found I had a renewed interest in traveling to many of these places.
R. Peterson
While not a dreamy, thoroughly enjoyable read, this book is very informative and should be read by anything traveling to Asia.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 6, 2002
Format: Paperback
Being of German and Chinese parentage and having lived and travelled throughout Asia all my life, I have finally found my thoughts about this vast continent and its spirituality on paper.
As Terzani himself states in this book "It sometimes takes a Westerner to make sense of Asia" and I too have found this to be true. Unlike some misguided reviews that I have read about this book, Terzani is absolutely spot on in his anlysis and interpretations of Asia and its status quo.
"A fortune teller told me" is great travel literature, great socio-political commentary and food for the soul all at once. Here is a man in search of truth, travelling through the continent with the richest and oldest history, needlesly reinventing and destroying itself, its identity and its spirituality in order to catch up with the youngest and most money-orientated civilizations.
The West looks to the East for Answers and the East looks to the West for answers in this amazing book.
Two thumbs up!
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By S. Callahan on January 6, 2003
Format: Paperback
"A Fortune Teller Told Me" sat on my bookshelf for nearly a year. I had started it once when I had run out of reading material but did not find it terribly compelling until I picked it up again recently.
Written by an Italian journalist who has lived in Asia for thirty or more years, it is the story of his travels in Asia during the year when he did not fly because a Hong Kong fortune teller told him that it would be dangerous for him to do so. His travels take him to Singapore, and through Thailand, Malaysia, Cambodia, Indonesia, and other countries I haven't read about yet, because I haven't finished the book. Tarzani,the author, is clearly someone at home on the road. He has the advantage of speaking Chinese, which clearly makes it easier for him to make connections with local people. During his travels he seeks out fortune tellers, but what is most interesting are his observations of the changes taking place in Asia at the time. He makes several references to the rise of Islamic fundamentalism as a reaction to globalization and growing materialism.
He also observes the effects of the Chinese diaspora in Asia: how in many of the southeast asian countries the first and second and third generation Chinese control the economy. He seems to indirectly blame this element of the populace for the increased materialism and the loss of local values and customs.
One of the drawbacks of his point of view is that he embodies the stereotype of the macho Italian and seems unenlighted about the possibility that women could actually read his book. This comes to light as he despairs about the increased modernization of the world. After computers, what next? Will we dispense with women? Once we no longer need to think for ourselves, will we no longer need to procreate? he seems to say.
The book is food for thought and a wonderful travelogue, except when comments like that slip out.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By R. Peterson on October 20, 2001
Format: Hardcover
As this is my first post living in Asia, I found this book to be a delightful introduction to some of what this region is "really" like. Tiziano Terzani is an Italian-born journalist for the German Der Spiegel and in 1976 while in Hong Kong, is taken to a fortune-teller (almost as a joke) who told him that if he flew in 1993 it could prove fatal. Not being one for superstitions, he nonetheless decided to spend the whole of 1993 traveling Asia in every way save air (train, bus, car, on foot, and elephant!). He not only does this, but he dedicates his writing and research during that year (1993) to finding the "truest" fortuneteller in any country who will accurately tell his fortune (and divine his past correctly). His work puts him conveniently in a number of countries where he is able to visit seers, clairvoyants, astrologists, soothsayers, and psychics. He covers the elections in Burma, a road opening in Thailand and China, and even manages to take a trans-Siberian trip from Cambodia and Vietnam through China and Mongolia and off through Russia.

Most people, in most countries, are somewhat fascinated by the accuracy of a fortune-teller - and this is the hook that Terzani uses to draw us in. Will the prophesy prove true (a plane of journalists does go down in Asia at one point early in the given year (a plane he would have been on) but no one dies.)? How accurate are fortune-tellers? The details of his many visits to these many people, and his descriptions of the peoples and places he is seeing as a result of not flying are all fascinating. One of the themes he continually returns to is the modernization of Asia and to some extent how that pains him (AIDS in Burma, cold-hearted money mongers in China, completely non-spiritual Mongolians).
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20 of 25 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 1, 2001
Format: Hardcover
I have lived in several of the countries covered by Mr. Terzani and I enjoyed reading about his travels. However, while I did find this an interesting look at these countries and I think his research on history and customs was excellent (his conversations with local individuals especially fascinating), I found myself increasingly irritated with some of his views.

I agree with the reader from Singapore that he has seemingly ignored the benefits of modernization (even obvious ones such as improved healthcare, more education, etc.). Also, the comments throughout the book about the mercenary nature of the Chinese. While this is a book about his travels and not a text book, I felt the constant repetition of this viewpoint was not necessary.
The extreme poverty of a large number of people in Asia mean that they are primarily concerned with survival, but they are aware of their cultural heritage. While fortunate enough to be in the position to make his own choices (he later chose to stay in cheaper hotels, but he started off with the Oriental Hotel in Bangkok) many people in these countries do not have that luxury.
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