In 1629, the ship Batavia, pride of the Dutch East India Company, was wrecked on the edge of a coral archipelago, some fifty miles from the western coast of the Australian continent. Most of the nearly three hundred men, women and children on board escaped from drowning only to become victims of a psychopath who, with the help of a dozen followers, organized a methodical massacre of this hapless community. Acclaimed sinologist and author Simon Leys traveled to the site of the disaster and learned that, paradoxically, the natural environment of these islands could have afforded the survivors fairly decent living conditions; the massacre therefore appears all the more aberrant. In fact, in its gratuitous absurdity, it seems to present a microcosm of the totalitarian atrocities that are perpetrated by various ideologies seeking to establish Paradise on earth. Leys’ elegiac essay, Prosper, is also included in this volume. In this deeply personal piece, Leys recalls a summer when he joined the crew of a tuna-fishing boat from Brittany, one of the last boats still working under sail. This remarkable narrative preserves Leys’ memories of his sailing companions and pays tribute to their unique worlda world that no longer exists.
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