The Asiatics has no plot. It is a tale of an aimless vagabondage from Beirut to Hong Kong, a pilgrimage to experience made by—and told by—a nameless young American. The narrator-hero is not a rogue, but in most other respects The Asiatics is a picaresque romance, studded with incident and peopled by faithless opportunists and outright scoundrels. Nothing is explained of the hero’s background, and the inference to be made is that he is making this long trip simply because that is what young men do. He has but little money most of the way, and he is innocent (but alert) in a way that is identified with Americans. The Asiatics is, in fact, partly a fable of cultural contrasts.
The hero leaves Beirut by bus, catching a ride to Damascus, where the first of his many initiation experiences occurs when he is befriended by a faintly sinister Syrian named M. Aractingi. Their journey to Turkey ends abruptly when M. Aractingi’s car breaks down, and two mysterious men come along and pursue him into the fields on foot. The hero flees in another direction, finding shelter with a hospitable peasant.
Walking toward Homs the next day, the hero falls in with another vagrant, a young Frenchman named Antoine Samazeuilh. Their companionship endures for several days, strengthened by the company of a pretty girl, until Samazeuilh inexplicably disappears. The hero pushes on alone into Turkey, meeting new friends and dropping them, and in Istanbul a Mr. Suleiman petitions him to deliver a small package on his boat trip to Trebizond. He delivers the parcel—he suspects that it is opium—and soon takes up with an enigmatic Russian, Feodor Krusnayaskov, with whom he continues his travels. No sooner do they reach the city of Erzerum than they are arrested by the Turkish police and confined in a cell with twenty-eight political prisoners, thus beginning one of the more notable episodes of the novel.
The hero suffers through two wretched months in prison during the coldest months of winter, witnessing the extreme sexual corruption of his fellow inmates. During his...
(The entire section is 861 words.)