cover image The Missionary and the Libertine: Love and War in East and West

The Missionary and the Libertine: Love and War in East and West

Ian Buruma. Random House (NY), $25.95 (352pp) ISBN 978-0-375-50222-4

Buruma (Anglomania) first became fascinated with the East in 1971 during a Japanese theater show in Amsterdam, and he has maintained this interest ever since. Here, in a collection of essays on the cultural interplay between Asia and the West (several of which first appeared in the New York Review of Books), he discusses topics as far-ranging as Indonesian history and popular Japanese writers--all with ease and dexterity. At their best, as in a piece on Michael Crichton's novel Rising Sun, these essays, which exhibit an old-fashioned, impressive erudition throughout, illuminate the cultures of both hemispheres. Buruma deftly picks apart the common Western paranoid view of the Japanese and compares it to the parallel fear of Americans (and Jews) depicted in a contemporary Japanese book. Along the way, Buruma--who was educated in both Holland and Japan--does not shy from criticizing the East: his compelling essay on the 1988 Seoul Olympics, for example, deftly highlights the rabid nationalism that accompanied South Korea's staging of that international event. In another piece, he lambastes the treatment of gaijin (foreigners) who come East to play Japanese baseball. Sometimes, however, his summing up overgeneralizes, as when he describes Japanese postwar culture as a trip ""from student activism to pornography to show-business dandy."" (Aug.)