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Charting the Mekong river

Charting the Mekong river
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John Keay--s book describes the French expedition along the Mekong and how it left an impact on the Southeast Asian countries

Angus McDonald
August 21 , 2015
01 Min Read

Don’t be put off by the silly title. Mad About the Mekong (Harper Collins; Rs 1,200) by John Keay is a really good book. On the surface it’s the story of the 1867 French expedition to chart the Mekong river. This is a remarkable enough tale in itself—the now-forgotten team travelled further than the length of Africa and plotted over half the course of what is still one of the least tamed of the world’s great rivers. But what really concerns veteran author John Keay is the expedition’s consequences—effectively, the delineation of modern Southeast Asia. Had it not been for the thrusting ambition of the expedition’s diminutive deputy leader, Francis Garnier, French involvement in Indochina might have taken a very different course. Thailand would be a different shape, and Cambodia and Laos might not even exist. As a tale of colonial delusion, greed and overreach, it’s hard to beat. It’s also a page-turning yarn of courage and determination, as well as a tribute to an astounding waterway, the tenth longest in the world. Keay interweaves the narrative of the expedition with evocative descriptions of the modern river, which in some respects has barely changed since 1867. Essential reading.


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