The Missionary and the Libertine: Love and War in East and West

Buruma, Ian

Published by Westminster, Maryland, U.S.A.: Random House Inc, 2000
ISBN 10: 037550222X / ISBN 13: 9780375502224
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Synopsis: For centuries Westerners have projected fan-tasies of a decadent, voluptuous East in contrast to the puritanism of their own cultures. A Japanese theatrical troupe performing in his native Holland in 1971 exposed the young Ian Buruma to these temptations, and soon he was off to Tokyo, a would-be libertine. The essays collected in The Missionary and the Libertine chronicle Buruma's sobering discovery that Asians often have equally distorted visions of the West.

In these humorous and enlightening essays, Buruma describes the last days of Hong Kong, the showbiz politics of the Philippines, the chauvinism of the Seoul Olympics, the sinister genius of Lee Kuan Yew, the intricacies of Japanese sexuality, and much more. His portraits of Benazir Bhutto, Imelda Marcos, Satyajit Ray, and Corazón Aquino are classics of the journalist's art.

Buruma shows that the cultural gap between East and West is not as wide as either missionaries or libertines, in East or West, might think. At home in both worlds, he has provided a splendid counterblast to fashionable theories of clashing civilizations and uniquely Asian values. By stripping away our fantasies, Buruma reveals a world that is all too recognizably human.

Review: This collection of essays, drawn mainly from The New York Review of Books, will appeal to readers interested in the Far East, especially Japan. Ian Buruma writes of Europe's very particular fascination with Asia, and makes clear that this is what attracted him, too:

Neither puritanism nor sensuality was ever unique to East or West, yet, on the whole, it is for the latter that Westerners have looked East. There has been a sensual, even erotic, element in encounters--imaginary or real--between East and West since the ancient Greeks. The European idea of the Orient as female, voluptuous, decadent, amoral--in short, as dangerously seductive--long predates the European empires in India and Southeast Asia.
Yet an unexpected reversal has upset this mode of thought. "From the official point of view of China, Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea, and Japan," writes Buruma, "Europe and the United States are now models not of masculine vim but, on the contrary, of decadence, libertinism, and sloth."

The best essay in The Missionary and the Libertine builds off this observation by examining Lee Kuan Yew's repressive Singapore and the "Asian values" debate. Startling anecdotes spring from the page (in this selection as well as the others), such as the employment ad Buruma shares from a Singapore daily: "Filipino. Hardworking. No day off." Buruma is more than just an observer; he's also an analyst. The very concept of "Asian values" rings untrue, he believes, because the phrase "only really makes sense in English. In Chinese, Malay, or Hindi, it would sound odd. Chinese think of themselves as Chinese, and Indians as Indians (or Tamils, or Punjabs). Asia, as a cultural concept, is an official invention to bridge vastly different ethnic populations living in former British colonies." Buruma also writes about Pakistan's Benazir Bhutto, the Philippines' Cory Aquino, V.S. Naipaul, the Seoul Olympics, the debate over the bomb in Japan, and so on. The book is a grab bag of literature and culture, and fans of Buruma will be delighted to have it all packed together in a single volume. --John J. Miller

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Title: The Missionary and the Libertine: Love and ...
Publisher: Westminster, Maryland, U.S.A.: Random House Inc
Publication Date: 2000
Binding: Hardcover
Book Condition: New
Edition: 1st Edition

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