by Lang Reid
Romancing the East
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
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
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
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