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Bamboo Palace: Discovering the Lost Dynasty of Laos

by Christopher Kremmer

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I could be mistaken, but it seems the liberalism of information on the Internet has penetrated the world of traditional publishing. While in the past most books were written by the more serious type of scholarly or semi-scholarly author, there now seems to be a new large group of journalists or former journalists who have turned to producing books. These books have a different flavour. A fairly large number of these books are written by relatively young, adventurous authors. Perhaps the availability of so much background information through the Internet enables these writers to combine journalistic skills of collecting first-hand information with the otherwise time-consuming task of writing up background to a story.

Their style of writing is somewhat different from earlier authors. Less knowledgeable, less snobbery; more personal, interweaving the object of research, with personal anecdotes, so to speak the process of collecting facts, in an easy-going, free, personal style. In some cases, the writing has a distinctly journalistic flavour of exaggeration and typifying descriptions. On the whole, the reporting also seems less neutral.

One such a new type of author is Christopher Kremmer, who has written books about Central and Southeast Asian countries, such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, India, and Laos. Bamboo Palace. Discovering the lost dynasty of Laos is his second book about Laos.

Rather than a thorough description and analysis of recent Lao history, the book is a racy detective story, trying to uncover the fate of the late royal family of Laos. Photos of and visits to derelict buildings, sites in the jungle, chasing witnesses, seeking out survivors, adventure and a pinch of danger are typical. The author is prominently present in the text, and in photos as the agent uncovering the facts.

The book is very readable, giving us a glimpse of contemporary life in Laos, and lifting a tip of the veil on Laotian history. The author is indeed able to lay bare quite a considerable part of the mosaic of that part of history concerning the last months of the royal family, and how they perished in concentration camps.

However, the style of the book is very confusing, especially in the beginning. It is a mish-mash of journalism, travelogue and personal reflections. The description of the author's dream, and the peculiar cycling accident, which the author claims was caused by a "cursed" stolen buddha sculpture are peculiar and undermine the sanity of the author and credulity of the book.

Laos is a country not much spoken of, and little known. This book is an interesting contribution to our knowledge of that country. It has whetted my appetite to know more about this country. ( )
1 vote edwinbcn | Feb 14, 2011 |
From a hostel in El Chalten, Argentina. I picked this up as it is not often you see books on Laos. Much more is known of its neighbours, Vietnam and Cambodia, which were also part of French Indochina.

An Australian journalist goes to Laos to find out the fate of the royal family, the book is an updated version of Stalking the Elephant Kings. As he travels through the country, he visits historical sites, meeting people - surviving members of the royal family, of the communist party, former political prisoners - , and asks searching questions.

The fate of the royal family is linked with the story of its people. The royal family had a chance to escape, but didn't, or at least the King and Queen did not, and the party have still not definitively explained what happened. They were not the only ones who faced difficult decisions in the wake of the civil war and also the purges in the ruling party, many Laotians left for neighbouring countries, or even overseas. He meets with a man held for many years in camps in the country, a party member, without ever being able to notify his family. The conditions of the camps were horrendous, indeed it appeared that those in charge were trying to kill them off, not quickly, but by starving them and breaking their morale.

Also mentioned are the American military personnel still unaccounted for, Kremmer hears stories of them being held in caves. They are a reminder that the Vietnam war did not confine itself to that country's borders, but fighting and bombs spilled over the border, bombs which are still causing damage even now.

Well researched, an insight into a relatively isolated country, which is surprising considering the amount of foreign interference in its history. ( )
1 vote soffitta1 | Dec 25, 2010 |
Loved this book after travelling through Laos. Part travelogue, part mystery my interest was maintained throughout. A great insight into an often forgotten land with dark secrets. ( )
  crumber | Nov 28, 2010 |
Excellent read. A travel book with a difference as the writer tries to uncover what happened to the Laos Royal Family after the Communists took charge. He travels far and wide through Laos meeting very interesting characters along the way, ending up near the border with Vietnam. Part travelogue, part history book, part mystery a great insight into a little known world. I have travelled through Laos and that was my main reason for reading the book but if you have heard nothing about this beautiful country this book will still be a worthwhile read. ( )
  clstaff | May 6, 2010 |
A good read about the fate of the Royal family of Laos and the author's attempts to find out the truth. ( )
  moncrieff | Sep 17, 2007 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0732277566, Paperback)

Twenty years after the Indochina wars, Christopher Kremmer visits Laos-at the crossroads of change in southeast Asia. He begins his journey in the tranquility of Luang Prabang, once the royal capital. With its ancient culture and stately airs, the town-like Laos itself-is a place of secrets, mysteries and nagging questions.

Setting off in search of the lost royal family, a 600-year-old dynasty consumed by the violent troubles of the 1960s and 1970s, Kremmer reveals a small land-locked corner of Asia struggling to deal with the legacies of the US war and Asian communism. Bamboo Palace begins as a travelogue, turns into a mystery and ultimately redefines a nation's history as Kremmer journeys through Laos to uncover one of Indochina's darkest secrets.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:24:19 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

"Bamboo Palace begins as a travelogue, turns into a mystery and ultimately redefines a nation's history, as Christopher Kremmer journeys through Laos to uncover one of Indochina's darkest secrets. For decades, the inscrutable leaders of the Lao People's Democratic Republic have deflected questions about the fate of the Lao royal family, traditional rulers of the 600-year-old Kingdom of the Million Elephants and the White Parasol, deposed by leftist guerillas in the aftermath of the Vietnam War." "A timely reminder of the consequences of ill-considered war, Bamboo Palace takes readers from the jungles of South-East Asia to the north-western United States, where the author tracks down the last known survivor of the royal death camp. The former prisoner's testimony provides the definitive chilling climax. A portrait of a poor, landlocked country in the grip of tyranny, Bamboo Palace is also a story of human endurance."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

» see all 2 descriptions

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