Synopses & Reviews
The River’s Tale is a deeply informed personal chronicle of a remarkable journey down the Mekong River as it runs through China, Tibet, Burma, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. In it Edward A. Gargan tells a stirring tale of adventure that reveals the Mekong’s many worlds.
Beginning in 1998, Gargan was at last able to pursue his long-held dream of traveling the three thousand miles of the river and lingering where he wished. He was, in a sense, coming to terms with places and peoples with which he had already linked his life. His youthful opposition to the Vietnam War had been the first manifestation of his passionate interest in Asia, where he subsequently spent much of his career as a New York Times correspondent.
His travels show us a kind of modernity settling uneasily on regions still mired in backwardness and poverty, and shadows that linger so many years after the end of the Vietnam War. We visit Internet cafés in dirt-streeted towns near thatched-hut villages without electricity. The magnificent Angkor Wat, a hub of tourism, is surrounded by the ruins engendered by Pol Pot’s genocidal reign. We see plodding mule trains caravanning sacks of opium through Burma on their way to China to be processed and distributed to the West. Tibetan horsemen adorned in silver and amber jewelry herd yaks across endless grasslands as their ancestors did, though their culture is under siege by the Chinese. Vietnamese salesmen scooter around Saigon hawking American soaps, passing by outcast children fathered by American soldiers and left behind. Buddhism flowers in a Laos ravaged by communism. Sex tourism thrives in prosperous Thailand, a trade chiefly involving teenagers, who pay a deadly price.
And throughout, there is the Mekong—shaping landscapes, linking cultures, sustaining populations, showcasing spectacular beauty. Edward Gargan is an acutely observant, sympathetic guide to a fascinating world, and he has written a powerful and lyrical book.
From Tibet to Vietnam, from windswept plateaus to the South China Sea, the Mekong flows for three thousand miles, snaking its way through Southeast Asia. Long fascinated with this part of the world, former New York Times correspondent Edward Gargan recounts his ambitious exploration of the Mekong and those living within its watershed.
Gargan invested over a year traveling the length of the river, and he gives us an unforgettable account of his immersions into the unique and varying cultures lining its banks. He vividly portrays regions shaped by colonial occupation, brutal wars, and unspeakably corrupt governments. But he also documents communities courageously moving forward while wrestling with the past. On dirt streets Internet cafes stand next to thatched huts without electricity. A thriving tourist industry lays adjacent to Pol Pot's killing fields. New highrise office buildings tower over the disenfranchised children of American soldiers. The River's Tale is a seminal examination of the Mekong and its people, a testament to the their struggles, their defeats and their victories.
About the Author
Edward A. Gargan worked as a foreign correspondent and bureau chief for the New York Times in West Africa, China, India, and Hong Kong, was a magazine writer for the Los Angeles Times, and now covers Asia for Newsday. He was an Edward R. Murrow Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and is the author of China’s Fate. He is based in Beijing and has a home on Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts.