Napoleonic View of Modern Asia’s Rise
In this ambitious volume, running close to 700 pages, the author presents a breathless account of Asia under colonial rule. Beginning in the early 20th century, Basu takes his very detailed accounts of the depredations of European colonial powers, especially the British until the end of the Second World War.
In his recounting, which flows like a swollen river in a monsoon carrying events big and small in its tide, he has reserved a special place for the Japanese Imperial Army and its ally Subhash Chandra Bose of the Indian National Army, as change agents. He narrates in detail Bose’s dalliance with Adolf Hitler and his heroic wartime submarine journey from Europe to Asia. In the course of the perilous voyage, Bose transferred from a German to a Japanese sub before continuing to Sumatra. The hospitable Japanese commander vacated his own cabin and made special arrangements “for curries to be cooked.”
Basu’s central argument, he says, is that “Japan’s role in 20th-century Asia was akin to Napoleon’s in 19th-century Europe,” creating widespread institutional change that helped modernize Europe. But bogged down in the minutiae of wartime developments, he seems to have run out of space to fully develop that thesis other than barebones reports of a number of students going to school in Japanese-ruled Korea or how many steel mills were left as a base from which modern South Korea and Taiwan could rise. The author gives a fairly sizable bibliography but no notes indicating provenance of facts he details.
Asia Reborn: A Continent Rises From the Ravages of Colonialism and War to aNew DynamismBy Prasenjit K. Basu Aleph, 2018, 680 pages, 1,999 rupees (Hardcover)