And my copy apparently once belonged to Donald Richie

Although I would usually grant a book entitled A Barbarian in Asia a cursory eye-roll at best, since it was written more than 50 years ago I decided to forgive the cliche and give it a try. Here is a representative passage:

The Hindu does not kill the cow. No, evidently, but everywhere you will see cows eating old newspapers. Do you believe that the cow is naturally partial to old newspapers? This would be saying you don't know the cow. She likes green grass, which is good to crop, and, in a pinch, vegetables. Do you believe that the Hindu is ignorant in the matter of the cow's tastes? Come, come! After five thousand years of living together! Only he is hard as leather, and that is that.

By my count, we have a provocatively but entertainingly worded observation, a lack of cultural background that would put that observation into perspective, and then a random insult directed at "the Hindu" (the men, at least.)

Insults are a running theme. Michaux calls Japanese actors "the most false, the most insupportable of all Asia, and of Europe (Korean women singers included)", for example. Note the unnecessary sideswipe at Korea. Of course, who would expect anything but rudeness from a Frenchman? Kidding, kidding. In fact, Michaux finds time to sling barbs at his own countrymen, too, dismissing all French furniture produced after the seventeenth century, for example, as stupid and pretentious. He's adopting a standard literary bad boy persona, in other words. As a Swift devotee, I find this kind of self-conscious pseudomisanthropy "cute" rather than "shocking" -- B FOR EFFORT BUT MUST TRY HARDER TO LOATHE SELF -- but I can see someone getting horribly offended by any number of pages here.

A stream of witty, well-wrought observations muddied with overgeneralisation, wilful point-missing, and all-purpose unpleasantness, that's what this book is. But I must admit that reading the words "Confucius: the Edison of morality" made me feel as though my reading time had not been wasted.

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