Golden Earth by Norman Lewis

I have mentioned Norman Lewis before on this blog, since I came to this book after enjoying some others of his. A funny and companionable writer, I am surprised he is not better known, even today.

This book is about his travels in Burma in the 1950s. I was lucky enough to spend a week in that amazing country in 1983 and, from what I can tell, not all that much had changed. Still soaked, at that time, in Buddhism and metaphysically-inspired charm, as it was when Lewis wrote this thoroughly enjoyable book.

When I first picked it up, I feared for a moment that it would be out of date and therefore overtaken, somehow irrelevant and, dare I say it, not worth reading. But his style is magnanimous and curious, with finely crafted syntax and sentences, so it is in that sense timeless. But the questions he touches on are still with us – perhaps they always will be.

What is the impact on society of materialism and the commodification of pleasures? What role should religion play in society and might it actually be a good thing, in some places and some settings? And can a colonial legacy ever be good?

This is a very enjoyable book. I read the Eland edition; Eland specialize in reprinting intriguing travel books that have gone out of fashion and long may they do so.


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