When I originally picked up this book Romancing the East (ISBN-13: 978-0804843201, Tuttle Publishing, 2013) I thought it was an anthology collated by well-known writer Jerry Hopkins. I could not have been more wrong as was painfully obvious when I began to read the first chapter called “Joseph Conrad”. These chapters were not re-hashed writings from the great authors such as Rudyard Kipling, Pearl S. Buck, George Orwell, Graham Greene, E.M. Forster, et al, but were dissertations on their writings by Hopkins himself.
Now to be an ‘expert’ commentator a writer needs bona fides, and Hopkins has these in spades. He has published more than 1,000 magazine articles and 36 books, including several international bestsellers – including the cult classic “No One Here Gets Out Alive”. He moved to Thailand in 1993 where he developed a strong reputation with his writings on food, travel, and various aspects of Asian life and culture, and is an ‘old hand’ who knows and understands this neck of the woods. It is this experience that allows Jerry Hopkins to compare writings by western authors versus the ‘real’ situation in the mystic East, yesterday and today.
Perhaps I should have known that Joseph Conrad’s real name was Jozef Teodor Conrad Nalecz Korzeiowski and that his spoken English was almost unintelligible! Perhaps I should have also known that he never actually stayed in the Mandarin Oriental in Bangkok, despite giving his name to one studio there. He did, however, sail the oceans, but despite his writings, he did not enjoy life on the ocean wave.
And then again, perhaps I should have known that the redoubtable Anna Leonowens was not present when King Mongkut died as he died of malaria the year after she left Siam, no matter what she claimed.
Lafcadio Hearn seems a very interesting chap, born in Ireland and by a circuitous route ended up in Japan, where he became besotted with the country and the culture, even taking on Japanese citizenship and the name Yakumo Koizumi. His description of the small Japanese people in their small shops reminds Hopkins of a trip to Middle Earth where Hobbits live and “the reader can almost hear dwarves whistling their way to work. Was this not a sort of Magic Kingdom too?” For Lafcadio, it obviously was. And while the West has forgotten Ladcadio, it appears that Japan has not, with Hopkins even giving the coordinates of his burial plot in Japan. And there are another 29 writers all laid bare by Jerry Hopkins, which will keep you reading for many weekends.
Bravo! What a wonderful book, and a ‘must read’ for anyone with an interest in literature! Jerry Hopkins has attacked each author’s writings with a ‘forensic’ eye, drawing the reader’s attention to every small detail and showing just how these fit into the overall scheme of the offerings from the different writers. His ‘asides’ in the Anna Leonowens chapter made me smile repeatedly.
At 525 baht this literary gem is literally a bargain. It is, I believe, available in all leading bookstores in Thailand, and deserves to be on your bookshelf too.