A Study of an Enigmatic Travel Writer and His Work in Colonial Asia during the fin de siècle.
In 1898, a man calling himself Alfred Raquez appeared in Indochina claiming to be a writer travelling the world to escape unfathomable sorrows back home in France. He published thousands of pages of highly detailed travel accounts that open a unique window onto the European presence in the Far East. He travelled far into the Zomia of upland Southeast Asia, a peripheral zone populated by people who lived beyond official state power. Raquez explored the nightlife of Shanghai and operated a popular cabaret in Hanoi. An amateur anthropologist, he helped mount expositions of colonial material in Hanoi and Marseille. Raquez met people in the highest circles of belle époque Indochina, as well as the kings of Annam, Cambodia, Laos and Siam. And yet, despite the charm and the ebullience and the erudition, through all his travels and rising fame, the man kept a secret that was so mortifying that even his closest companions would not learn of it until after his death in 1907. In truth, Alfred Raquez did not exist.
A fascinating read for students and scholars of colonial Southeast Asia, and European colonialism more broadly.
Table of Contents
1. Mitchell-Innes and Orts – Who is M. Raquez? - Batavia – King Norodom and Master Léopold – A Water-borne Mirage – Doctor of Law - Slow Boat to China
2. In the Land of Pagodas – Exote Flâneur Punk - The Paris of the Orient – General Chen Jitong - Not a single li is level - The Sounds of Guiyang – Vérascope Richard – Mayflies
3. Sugar Stick – Bird or Mouse? - Governor General Doumer – Endangered Species - Liquor and Opium – I always carry a khene in my luggage - Good Enough to Eat - Muang Sing - Soul-piercing Desolation – Le Comptoir Laotien
4. Le Petit Lac - F. H. Schneider – Laotian Pages - Mysterious Angkor - L'exposition de Hanoi – Human Zoos - Adventures with the Press Corps - Governor General Beau – War with Challaye
5. Famine in Guangxi, Railroads in Guangzhou - Norodom's Last Bon Om Touk - Salome in Singapore – Chulalongkorn's Jubilee - Sel Hybat - Is the Emperor Mad? - Even the dead are partying – Farewell to the King of the Khmers – Typhoon
6. Adieu, Hanoi - The Conquest of Hearts - Instructions pour les voyageurs - Postcards and Singing Ghosts - What Day is This? - Sisavang Vong's Dancing Rats - Everyone wanted to see the King's funeral pyre
7. Home Again - The Colonial Exposition of 1906 – Pigeon Coop – La plus gracieuse des Ballerines laotiennes – Sisowath's Royal Troupe - Avant Garde Exoticism – The Christopher Columbus of Laos – Naturhistorisches Museum Wien
8. Black Pox or Death by Valentine? - Eulogies and Monuments - L'affaire Gervais - Loose Ends – The Unknowable - Fading Traces – The Repressed Returns
9. Longing for the Past
William L. Gibson is a full-time writer and editor of both academic and fiction books, based in Southeast Asia. His recent academic appointments have included lecturing in writing and media at Sampoerna University and SAE Institute in Jakarta. He is former Head of the Department of Digital Journalism at SAE Institute, Singapore, and former Assistant Professor at Singapore’s National Institute of Education.
His non-fiction publications include Art and Money in the Writing of Tobias Smollett (2007); In the Land of Pagodas, A. Raquez (translation with Paul Bruthiaux; 2017); and Laotian Pages, A. Raquez (translation with Paul Bruthiaux; 2018). His Singapore Trilogy of hard-boiled crime novels set in 1890s Malaya and Singapore is published by Monsoon Books.