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An Empire of the East


Norman Lewis was eighty-three years old when in 1991 he embarked on a series of three arduous journeys into the most contentious corners of Indonesia: into the extreme western edge of Sumatra, into East Timor and Irian Jaya. He never drops his guard, reporting only on what he can observe, and using his well-honed tools of irony, humour and restraint to assess the power of the ruling Javanese generals who for better or worse took over the 300-year old dominion of the exploitative Dutch colonial regime.

An Empire of the East is the magnificent swan-song of Britain’s greatest travel writer: unearthing the decimation of the tropical rain forests in Sumatra, the all but forgotten Balinese massacre of the communists in 1965, the shell-shocked destruction of East Timor, the stone-age hunter-gathering culture of the Yali tribe (in western Papua New Guinea) and perhaps most chilling of all, his visit to the Freeport Copper mine in the sky – which is like a foretaste of the film Avatar – but this time the bad guys, complete with a well-oiled publicity department, triumph. He left us with a brilliant book, that reveals his passion for justice and his delight in every form of human society and still challenges our complacency and indifference.

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