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God's Dust: A Modern Asian Journey Paperback – November, 1990


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Buruma ( Behind the Mask ) writes with trenchant skepticism yet implicit sympathy about the "cultural confusion, the endless searching for meaning and national identity" in contemporary Burma, Thailand, the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea and Japan. As a "secular European" and 10-year resident of Hong Kong and Tokyo, he is an ideal observer--objective and respectful, but aggressively inquiring--of these paradoxical nations lately made and unmade by Western influences. Based on a year's travel in Asia, Buruma's essays search past and present for causes and effects of cultural emergence. In Bangkok, "the same girl who dances to rock 'n' roll on a bar top, wearing nothing but cowboy boots, seemingly a vision of corrupted innocence, will donate part of her earnings to a Buddhist monk the next morning to earn religious merit." Her moral gyrations, Buruma argues, are merely pragmatic, reflecting the "corrupted taste" of her Western audience. Thai Buddhist fundamentalists eschew most Western ideas as evil, while using "Western" slide shows to exhort fellow-Thais to live virtuously ("we must use modern technology to get quick results"). He concludes that in seeking Western-style "material well-being," Thais may "have lost something" but have kept their self-respect. A reporter of historical reach, Buruma comprehensively and concisely brings the East's "mystery" down to earth. Political analysis may take the place of descriptive passages customary in travelogues, but the author grinds no axe. Using his privileged status as informed outsider to question, not mythologize, cultures unfamiliar to us, Buruma offers anyone with a passing or permanent curiosity about Asia much to gain from his definitive work.
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Buruma writes that it "is the main theme of contemporary Asia--and not just Asia. How to be modern without losing your cultural sense of self." His year-long journey through Burma, Thailand, the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, and Japan confronts lands where ancient traditions struggle with foreign influences old (Chinese and Indian) and new (Japanese and American). His effort to find the true meaning of each culture leads him from government offices to red-light districts in an intriguing study that is often cynical and is very attentive to the seamier aspects of life. While God's Dust may not be as scholarly as Buruma's Behind the Mask (LJ 5/15/84), it is just as provocative and interesting. For adult and Asian subject collections.
- Kenneth W. Berger, Duke Univ. Lib., Durham, N.C.
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback
  • Publisher: Noonday Pr (November 1990)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374522359
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374522353
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 8 x 5.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,216,590 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Eric W. Sedlak on December 11, 1998
Format: Paperback
Ian Buruma's lively writing style, familiar to readers of the New York Review of Books and the Far Eastern Economic Review, comes to the fore in this wonderful look at a variety of Asian countries. He manages to isolate scenes and trends that characterize the tension between the traditional and the modern in several Asian nations (or indeed nations in formation). The non-Asian writer on Asia is at times less forgiving, and at others brings a fresh view, but always provides insights that few other books or writers seem to produce. God's Dust lets the seasoned Asia dweller feel that she is developing her own unique perspective on life in Asia, and at the same time gives those who have never experienced Asia's intricacies and contradictions an opportunity to experience more than a travelogue or a soon-to-be-proven-wrong business trends bestseller would deliver.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Luc REYNAERT on March 5, 2007
Format: Paperback
In a few pages, Ian Buruma sketches the essential characteristics, problems, myths and `soul' of 8 Asian countries.

Burma still hangs in the iron fist of a military dictatorship. This potential rich country is strangulated by national socialism. Its population survives through a black market, `a tapeworm eating its way through a bankrupt economy'.

Thailand sticks together by three crucial elements: `Nation, Religion and Monarch'. Being a country of `hedonism without guilt', it never lost its self-respect.

The Philippines, as a nation, is still struggling with its colonial past (Spain and the US) and with its oligarchies, of which the strongest one is the Catholic Church. `As long as the US bases are here, we cannot become a modern country'.

Malaysia's main problem is the chasm between the Village (which belongs to the Malays) and the City (dominated by the Chinese). The political class tries to cement a common national identity through religion (Islam).

Singapore is a Big Brother state. Its government fears chaos and an attack on its independence.

Taiwan is still dominated by the struggle between the early- and the late- comers from the mainland, and between the lowlanders and the mountain people. It has a fundamental identity problem: `How can a modern Chinese state identify itself with Chinese civilization when it is not China?'

Korea has a precarious geographical situation. Its rulers have always been using outside powers to fight opponents at home. The legitimacy of the Korean nation is thwarted by the North/South division.

The mythical pristine Japanese identity (idealized in the Village) based on benevolent imperial will, social harmony and communion with nature is lost in modern commercialism. Jingoism is used in order to forge a new concrete for the nation.

This book is a must read for all Asian scholars and all those interested in Asian affairs.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By John P. Jones III TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on April 26, 2013
Format: Paperback
Ian Buruma is a true citizen of the world. He was born of a Dutch father and a British mother. Educated in the Netherlands in Chinese literature; he studied the cinema in Japan. He now lives in the United States. But his true home seems to be that vast expanse of land that is Asia. This is one of his earlier works, concerning his travels over one year, through eight Asian countries: Burma, Thailand, the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea and Japan. The year appears to have been 1987, and the book was published in 1989. Much has changed since those days, and, alas, much remains the same. Burma is still ruled by the generals, still mired in poverty despite its resources. The "Asian Tigers," a label for the countries that seem to have their economic act together, specifically Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan and South Korea continue to prosper, surviving the economic meltdown of 2008. Japan still survives also, but no longer appears to be destined to "rule the world," as it did in the late `80's. Its star is now eclipsed by China. And Thailand and the Philippines continue to be shaped by their historical forces, while also melding into what we refer to as "globalization."

The issue of "globalization" is a central one in Buruma's book. Because all the big cities in Asia now have a McDonald's, and many listen to Western rock music, to what degree has this lessened what makes the culture of these countries unique? Buruma starts his journey in Rangoon, and ends it in Hiroshima; both places I have also visited. The author says that he first started going to Burma in 1978, always constrained by those 7-day visas. I visited Burma four times in the early `80's, and thus was able to judge the validity of Buruma's observations and insights, most of which conformed with my own.
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