Colin Thubron's 6 favorite books about Asia
The Way of the World by Nicolas Bouvier (NYRB Classics, $17). This superb account of a 1950s journey through the former Yugoslavia to India is written with a young man’s élan. But the book is insightful too, and funny. It became a cult classic, but its Swiss author never wrote anything comparable again.
Authenticating Tibet: Answers to China’s 100 Questions edited by Anne-Marie Blondeau and Katia Buffetrille (Univ. of Calif., $27). A collection of responses by Tibet scholars to a pamphlet published by the Chinese government in 1989, this work gives lucid and authoritative answers to many of the questions raised about Tibet — from its tangled past to Chinese policy in the present, from human rights to the control of monastic life.
Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India by William Dalrymple (Knopf, $27). Dalrymple, who has lived in New Delhi since 1989, offers vivid essays here on the syncretic world of India. At a time when Islamic extremism and Hindu nationalism threaten to polarize the nation’s population, it is salutary to be reminded of the sheer variety—ascetics, mystics, yogis—in both faiths.
The Wages of Guilt: Memories of War in Germany and Japan by Ian Buruma (Atlantic, $18). Buruma sheds light on the contrasting mentalities in Japan and Germany after WWII. He is especially perceptive on Japan, and the book becomes an indictment of historical amnesia, with a resonance beyond Japan’s borders.
Beijing Coma by Ma Jian (Picador, $18). At once an indictment of and a monument to the Tiananmen Square massacre, this big novel, whose protagonist surveys 30 years of Chinese history from his sickbed, mounts to its climax with almost unbearable tension.
Soul Mountain by Gao Xingjian (Harper, $16). Part memoir and part novel, this haunting journey through inland China is at once a voyage into myth and history, and a journey into the author’s fragmented selves. In 2000, Gao became the first Chinese writer to win the Nobel Prize.