The Lands of Charm and Cruelty

Stan Sesser

13 February 2014
336 pages


‘With detail, expertise and a moral voice, freelance writer Sesser portrays five repressed lands. His narratives – reprinted from the New Yorker – begin with the contradictions of Singapore, prosperous and tidy, whose competent, incorruptible leaders rule by fear. In desperately poor Laos, where the United States dropped more bombs than on Nazi Germany, villagers fashion daily essentials from remnant munitions and the wreckage of drowned planes. A chilling report on Cambodia warns of the political re-emergence of the murderous Khmer Rouge. A portrait of Burma limns how that republic's form of Buddhism tolerates tyranny and describes the nascent protest movement led by Aung San Suu Kyi. Sesser does not condemn all logging in Borneo, but finds the telling detail: in Japan, the logs become plywood, as “the gold of Sarawak rain forest [is] minted into pennies”’ Publishers Weekly

‘Stan Sesser’s beautifully observed book about the successes, the turmoils, and the disasters of Southeast Asia is a marvellous testament to his skills as a reporter and to fine writing. It is an invaluable piece of work’ William Shawcross