Bruce Palling

The Invisible Man

The Tomb in Seville

By

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WHEN I MOVED to Indo-China in the early Seventies, there was only one travel book on the region recommended by my journalistic colleagues and that was Norman Lewis’s A Dragon Apparent. It was his account of his travels in French Indo-China in 1950, four years before the imperial power’s defeat at Dien Bien Phu. Long out of print, it was religiously passed around amongst foreign correspondents in the way I imagine sarnizdat publications were in the Soviet Union. It was generally agreed that the author had ‘got it right’ – precisely capturing the mood and colour of the societies there in the same way that Graham Greene did half a decade later in fiction with The Quiet American. I was gripped by Lewis’s empathy with his subjects and complete lack of self-importance. No one seemed to know much about Lewis, except that he had also written a book on Burma called Golden Earth. No correspondent in war-torn Vietnam, Laos or Cambodia imagined that he was still alive, let alone still writing books. This was more to do with ignorance on our part than any fault of Norman Lewis’s – he had by then written nearly a dozen novels and a handful of will-received travel books, and some important articles about the Amazonian Indians.

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