|About the Book|
In 1629, the ship Batavia was wrecked on the edge of a coral archipelago, some fifty miles from the western coast of the Australian continent. Most of the people on board - nearly three hundred men, women and children - escaped from drowning only toMoreIn 1629, the ship Batavia was wrecked on the edge of a coral archipelago, some fifty miles from the western coast of the Australian continent. Most of the people on board - nearly three hundred men, women and children - escaped from drowning only to become victims of a visionary psychopath who organized a methodical massacre of this hapless community. What resulted was a Lord of the Flies scenario, complete with a mad self-appointed ruler, rape, slaughter, heroism, and ultimate rescue by the original ships captain, who had set off across unchartered seas to seek help. In its day, the tragedy of the Batavia struck the European imagination even more than that of the Titanic did in the twentieth century. Much interest in this bizarre and sinister episode was revived forty years ago by the discovery of the wreck. Acclaimed sinologist and author Simon Leys traveled to the site of the disaster and learned that 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 gratuity, it seems to present a microcosm of the totalitarian atrocities that are perpetrated by various ideologies seeking to establish paradise on earth. Also published in this volume is Leys elegiac essay, Prosper. 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 formative experience was Leys first introduction to the oldest and finest form of seamanship- its traditions, hardships, and dangers are lovingly evoked. This remarkable narrative preserves Leys memories of his sailing companions and pays tribute to their unique world - a world that no longer exists.