Patrick McCoy's Reviews > God's Dust: A Modern Asian Journey

God's Dust by Ian Buruma
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's review
Sep 25, 2011

it was amazing
bookshelves: travel, non-fiction

God's Dust by Ian Buruma: again, one of my favorite writers of Asian culture, he is thorough and has an ability to see into a culture and characterized it accurately and fairly. In this book, written in 1989, he goes on a tour of Asia (Burma, Thailand, The Philippines, Malaysia and Singapore, Taiwan, and South Korea) and gives an analysis of the politics and culture of each county. I found the sections on Burma, Taiwan, and Malaysia the most informative since I knew the least about these countries. Despite the fact that it was published 15 years ago, it stands the test of time well, since the basic national character of a country doesn't really change.

And that is where I found his analysis of Japan to be spot on. He cites his own personal love/hate relationship with the country where he spent nearly a decade of his life, so that despite his language ability and long presence there he felt chagrin at never being able to be fully accepted into that society. He states: "Japan is the most "Westernized" country in Asia, yet, somehow the country in East Asia least touched by the west. I am never sorry to leave, but I always yearn to go back." A sentiment that many would agree with, and I would concur in relation to trips to America and abroad. I will always feel the need to leave at least once a year, but I often miss it while I am away.

Perhaps the most incisive comment is how the Japanese stubbornly hold fast to the notion that Japanese are unique and that foreigners are unable to understand certain Japanese concepts that reflect the Japans spirit. He uses the example of a neurologist who made a name for himself by writing a book about the uniqueness of the Japanese brain, which he claims is uniquely sensitive to the sounds of temple bells, waterfalls, cicadas, and other natural vibrations.

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