The Asiatics: A Novel
pub. Chatto & Windus 1935
Prokosch is a master of moods and undertones, a virtuoso in the feeling of place, and he writes in a style of supple elegance.
I learnt only recently that Frederic Prokosch didn't actually travel through all the countries he describes. Neither have I, but his Ladakh, in the Himalayas of north-western India matches my recall of 22 years ago.
"I believe all of The Asiatics is accurate, geographically and socially speaking,'' he said after the novel's original publication in 1935, when he was 27. ''I've skirmished about a bit in northern Africa and western Asia, and now I'm off to the Balkans, Bukhara and Samarkand.''
The Asiatics is seemingly an autobiography of an American in his twenties exploring the world and thus exploring himself. It is the journey itself rather than the arrival which is of value, so we gradually see the protagonist 'growing up' as he learns about different philosophies.
It is sad to note that he was prescient; sad because surely what he forecast is now upon us.
Take away our clothes, our food, our liquor, our quaint sexual pleasures, or fatiguing little conversations and our loathsome excitements about this and that: what's left? A hollow thing, like one of those silver Christmas-tree ornaments, with no more blood or warmth. Let the snow fall and we're cold as ice, let the wind rustle the branches and we drop and shatter once and for all.
Nothing's left, because we never really lived anything, we never rose above the world of objects, we never deep down within us were alive. It's the age of inversion, the negative age. We're changing into tremendous plants, and soon we'll be breathing carbon dioxide, at the rate we're going.
Whenever I travel, I carry a book because I find it comforting to read and extract bon mots, words that encapsulate and clarify my ill-formed thoughts.
When I came to Indonesia at the tail end of 1987, I brought two books with me, knowing that both would be reread more than once.
This classic is one of those.
Originally published in GoodReads 22nd June 2008.