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For centuries Westerners have projected fantasies 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.
"The diversity of Buruma's cultural references and the wit and acuity with which he uses them make these essays refreshingly entertaining and intelligent. Buruma is a cultural omnivore. . . . The eclecticism inherent in a collection of essays that spans a decade and examines the relationship between Asia and the West through literary criticism, political commentary, meditations on the ephemera of popular culture and the biographies of eccentric colonialists is further emphasized by Buruma's intellectual acrobatics."--Alev Adil, Times Literary Supplement
"A fluent and enjoyable book."--The Economist