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I Have Seen the World Begin: Travels through China, Cambodia, and Vietnam Hardcover – March 7, 2002

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

That Danish journalist and essayist Jensen witnessed something momentous and formative on his journey through southeast Asia is clear, but the declarative force of his title belies the gradual, continuous nature of his discovery. Where and when did the beginning of the world make itself visible to this lonely traveler? On Nanjing Dong Lu, where brash consumerism explodes in pyrotechnics on the eve of the New Year, prompting Jensen to exclaim, "China is shedding its skin"? Or was it in Udang, the former capital of a kingdom now known as Cambodia, where amid the rubble of a wasted monastery he finds a grove of trees, carefully tended and labeled with Latin species names? Or in Vietnam, where erotic women have forgiven their past sorrows and whose "process of forgetting... was the sandpaper with which they refined an outlook on life"? In all these places and others, Jensen describes a near mystical experience in language so luminous one wonders whether to praise the author or the translator. Often, the headiness of his reactions threatens to discredit him he confesses that for him Asia represents a "dream." A very Western political view also compromises his analogies he views modern China almost exclusively through the lens of Tiananmen Square; Cambodians are uniformly asked about life before 1979, during the period of Pol Pot's nightmarish "geno-suicide"; and he thinks of Vietnam and war as inseparable, "as though that were the country's name." Still, Jensen's solemnity and spirituality distinguish him from most Western observers, as does his easy turn of anecdote into metaphor.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

This view of Asia by a Danish writer provides a different perspective not only on the cultures and histories of China, Cambodia, and Vietnam but also on the role of U.S. foreign policy and politics in these regions. Jensen is a columnist and literary critic for a Copenhagen daily and won Denmark's Golden Laurels Award (best book of the year) for this work. In recounting his journeys through this trio of troubled nations, he combines personal observations, interactions, historical perspectives, political analysis, and self-examination. Jensen finds both charm and calamity in China. Cambodia is a distressing experience, while Vietnam provides him with a surprising liberation from the bonds of his own personality. Jensen writes thoughtfully, even philosophically, as he probes for the motivations behind the actions of the societies he encounters. For instance, he speculates at length on the essence of evil as manifested by the Khmer Rouge. The United States is taken to task for its actions in Southeast Asia on several occasions, and readers should be prepared (in light of our recent patriotic fervor) for some negative remarks. However, traveling in the company of this articulate Dane results in a unique and enjoyable armchair journey. Recommended for all libraries. Janet Ross, formerly with Sparks Branch Lib., NV
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Harcourt; First U.S. Edition edition (March 7, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0151007683
  • ISBN-13: 978-0151007684
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,737,209 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Mr. Joe TOP 1000 REVIEWER on February 17, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"The lone traveller is the most dependent of all, because he has need of everybody and no one has need of him."
So notes Carsten Jensen in I HAVE SEEN THE WORLD BEGIN, his narrative account of his journey of discovery through China, Cambodia and Vietnam during the early 90s.
Jensen begins his travelogue in Beijing, but quickly moves on to Shanghai, from which he travels by boat up the Yangtse River, then by rail and bus, into southeastern China near the border of Myanmar (Burma). A constant thread is the state of the country and its inhabitants, individually and collectively, post-Tiananmen Square.
Then it's on to Cambodia, a country yet to recover from the cruel self-immolation imposed by Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge minions. As Jensen writes about this "biblical Judgement Day":
"... when the gates of Paradise were opened, it was only to reveal yet another graveyard. ... It was the humbled, the abased and the desperate who were raised on high, not to put an end to despair, but to extend it to everyone."
And lastly, Vietnam, with which the author is obviously entranced, and the reader with him. Much of Carsten's enthrallment is with the country's women - Tam, Kim and Scent of Spring in particular. It's with the first that he has a physical relationship. And it's Tam who states in the most eloquent manner I've ever encountered the worst thing about not being able to conceive a child:
"You can't pass on the eyes of the one you love to posterity. Like the stars they will be put out, instead of living on in a new face.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Britt Arnhild Lindland on August 27, 2002
Format: Hardcover
The title of this book, I Have Seen the World Begin, got my curiosity. The Danish journalist Carsten Jensen travelled from Russia south in Asia, through China, Cambodia, Vietnam and Hong Kong, and memories from these travels are collected in this huge book. And there are not only memories. Jensen has an open eye and tries to explain what he sees, and make it part of a bigger context, our world.
Jensen travels alone, but he meets local people on his way. And he is not afraid of making contact. Many of these people are there for us to meet through the book. I Have Seen the World Begin is not a romantic story. Here we meet all the dirt of poverty, all the dust of the landscape, all the evilness in people, though we also meet the beauty of the women in Vietnam, the charm of a poor guide in a small village in China, the greatness of a landscape. Travelling might be boring and depressing, or it might give new dimensions to your life. Jensen has experienced both.
And where does the world begin according to Carsten Jensen? It began for him in the birth of his child. The world is alive, the world is a place which will go on living inspite all odds
Britt Arnhild Lindland
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Hannah Nissen on September 19, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This is much more than a travel book. It's a book that has a deep respect for the "natives" it describes, and I really like that.

Like all good books about travel, this book is about Jensen's inner journey as well. This work is sensous and it makes me want to travel. We need travellers instead of frigtened people who stay at home watching tv, disliking foreigners, Muslims, and the "darkness" they perceive is out there.'
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on March 2, 2012
Format: Hardcover
I've never thought to myself "I want to read travel literature". Not once. I have never read a travel book before or after this one (though I am still open to the idea. just hasn't happened). Jensen is a master of imagery. My copy of this book is literally filled with post-it tabs pointing to quotes and passages that touched me deeply. The writing is pure gold, and the content is interesting, educational, and exciting. Not only do I want to read more of his works, but I want to travel to every place he wrote about!

I recommend this book to anyone. Absolutely anyone.
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Format: Hardcover
I have just read this book in Danish and I absolutely loved it. The beginning of the book about the Transsiberian railroad was excellent so why on earth the publishers of this English language version chose to omit the whole first 90 pages of the book is beyond me. This is why I give this edition of the book a very low rating.
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