In his new book, Piotr Kłodkowski exposes the charms of Eastern Civilisation, with all its colours and scents. But The Exquisite Taste of the orient has nothing of the tourist pamphlet; it is an encouragement to make an intellectual journey, to come to understand a world nowhere near as exotic as it usually appears to newcomers from the western hemisphere.
Firstly, the author himself refrains from going into raptures about the Orient, leaving the delight to his readers. Secondly, he explains the sometimes shocking conduct of Orientals in a rational way, avoiding religious rhetoric, an error intolerable in such cases; and thirdly – if he tries to convince us of anything, it’s only that, when planning to go East, we should leave at home any groundless feelings of superiority and, in the course of our peregrinations, first and foremost try to understand otherness.
Piotr Kłodkowski, an experienced traveller to India and Pakistan, China and the Philippines, Iran and Malaysia, focuses here on phenomena that are symbolic by nature. It maybe headgear in Turkey, facial hair in Iran, but also such issues as the attitude to death in India or the invisibility of women in Muslim societies. Some of the observations made by the author lead him to surprising conclusions, making this all the more interesting for the reader, whose belief in the perfection of the western democratic system can, in the course of reading this book, be seriously undermined. For example, in Singapore, where the state interferes in almost all areas of its citizens’ lives, the latter are perfectly satisfied with this state of affairs, Singapore’s GNP being comparable to that of Switzerland.
Piotr Kłodkowski’s book is a report on modern-day Asia, only in a few cases supported by historical references, as in the stylistically superb report “King”, which aids comprehension of the Cambodian nation’s tragedy and understand the causes behind the fall of this once flourishing kingdom. One can only hope that – as Kłodkowski says – there too “a thirst for justice will blossom again in a dozen or so years or maybe decades from now. Because such a yearning is probably something that transcends all borders and beliefs”.
Piotr Kłodkowski (born 1964) graduate of Oriental studies, writer and essayist. The author of the books War of the Worlds – Concerning the Illusion of Universal Values (2002) and On the Crack in Civilization (2005), for which he was awarded the Father Józef Tischner Prize.