Thunder from the East is a brilliant guide to a region that is now in a position to wrest economic, diplomatic, and military power from the West in the coming decades.
HAbout a third of the way through this eye-opening book, a 13-year-old Cambodian girl describes her mixed feelings about her parents, who sold her into prostitution to raise money for her now-deceased mother. "Mom was sick and needed money. I don't hate her," the girl says. This simple description of the awful choices faced by many of the participants in Asia's economic revolution is just one of the many devastating portrayals in this deftly woven and gracefully written book by a Pulitzer Prize-winning husband-and-wife team (authors of China Wakes) who were longtime Asia correspondents for the New York Times. Using individual lives to examine countries ranging from Japan to Singapore, Kristof and WuDunn convincingly argue that Asia's current economic crisis is just a blip in the continent's more-than-half-century ascent toward economic power. The crisis is "an imposed breather, a forced opportunity to recuperate and regroup." And instead of viewing this growth with fear and hostility, as many authors have previously, Kristof and WuDunn approach it with curiosity. Part history, part anthropology and part journalism, the book describes the factors--mainly isolationism and bloated bureaucracy--that held Asia back and helped Europe in the 19th and 20th centuries and how these factors continue to prevent some countries, whether Malaysia or India, from reaching their full economic potential. Nor do they shy away from the difficult questions posed by globalization and expansion. They describe an Indonesian woman who speaks glowingly about the possibility of her son working some day in a local sweatshop: it would be a step up from her employment-- trawling through a local dump. Despite these obstacles, the authors believe that the entrepreneurial spirit of Asians like Sirivat Voravetvuthikun, who launched his own sandwich stand in Bangkok, provide evidence of their optimism: "[T]he center of the world may be shifting... and eventually it will settle in Asia." Whether the reader agrees with them or not, images of Sirivat and the others will remain with the reader long after this gem of a book is placed back on the shelf. 66 b&w photos. (Sept.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.