In The Land of Pagodas
A Classic Account of Travel in Hong Kong, Macao, Shanghai, Hubei, Hunan and Guizhou
Alfred Raquez (edited and translated by William L. Gibson and Paul Bruthiaux)
500 pp., illustrated
NIAS Voices of the Orient # 1
Available from NIAS Press worldwide
• Takes readers on a vivid tour of fin-de-siècle China in the company of a Parisian boulevardier on the run.
• A startlingly fresh voice from over 100 years ago.
• The first English translation of a long out-of-print and sorely neglected work.
China, 1898: a time of war, intrigue and growing foreign power. Onto the scene comes a Parisian fugitive with a gifted pen and a journalist’s eye. Alfred Raquez drifts from Indochina to Hong Kong, Macao and Canton before falling in with a group of shady entrepreneurs in Shanghai with interests far up the Yuan River. In short order, Raquez sets off on a rollicking voyage into the heart of the lawless Miao-country, pen and camera in hand. The result is a richly recorded adventure told from the perspective of a wandering French boulevardier. In the Land of Pagodas takes readers on a picaresque journey that is as much Moulin Rouge as it is Heart of Darkness, and in its narration reveals much about the derring-do and startling hypocrisy of the colonial enterprise. Raquez’s amazing story is continued in his second book, on his Laotian travels, again translated and edited by Bruthiaux and Gibson, and planned for publication by NIAS Press in 2017.
’Alfred Raquez’ was the pseudonym of Joseph Gervais, a bankrupt French lawyer who fled to the Far East in the late 1890s and had access to some of the powerful players in French Indochina. He wrote prolifically about China and Indochina, took some of the earliest photographs of Laos and made the earliest field sound recordings in that land. He died under mysterious circumstances in Marseille in 1907. Confidence man, daring explorer, dashing bon vivant, proto-photojournalist and amateur ethnographer in equal parts, Raquez offers one of the more intriguing voices (not to mention mystery-filled yarns) of any commentator on the mix of ambitions and follies of of European colonial expansion into the Far East.
About the translators: California-native William L. Gibson (with a PhD in literature from the University of Leeds) is a writer, researcher and occasional sound artist based in Southeast Asia. Details of his trilogy of hard-boiled crime fiction set in 1890s Singapore and Malaya are found at www.williamlgibson.com. A prolific academic author and editor, Paul Bruthiaux holds a PhD in linguistics from the University of Southern California and now lives in Thailand. His memoir, French Bred: Growing up provincial in a bygone France, was published in 2012.
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- Feb. 29 2016
After a year of 48-hour days and frantic juggling, first copies of the printed volume of End of Empire: 100 Days in 1945 that Changed Asia and the World, edited by David P. Chandler, Robert Cribb and Li Narangoa, finally reached the NIAS Press office this morning.